When spring re-arrives, the sun will be shining, birds singing and families around the valley will be recreating in almost every outdoor way imaginable. But something will still be missing in Belgrade.
That thwacking ring of a tennis racket connecting with a neon ball is a sound absent from the Belgrade outdoors sports scene during warm spring days.
“There’s all these little kids that are coming up that would be able to take advantage of those courts if they were in better shape,” Dorothy Filson said. “It’s a sport for all ages.”
Filson is a life-long tennis player. She moved to Belgrade in 2006 to be closer to her brother Bill, also a tennis player. When Filson noticed the shape of the two tennis courts in Belgrade, she was dismayed.
“Belgrade is really behind the times here for the population we have being the fastest growing city in the state,” Filson said. “Both courts are in such bad shape. They need to be redone. People don’t play there because they’re afraid of tripping.”
Belgrade Public Works Director Steve Klotz said the city simply doesn’t have the funds to make a handful of shiny new courts.
About eight years ago, the city paid to have the tennis courts completely resurfaced. The contractor who completed the project said resurfacing was a bad idea because the base the courts sit on needs to be completely replaced.
Since the last resurfacing, the acrylic layers on the asphalt base have cracked and splintered. When it’s warm enough, weeds poke through the cracks. It’s a dangerous place for tennis players to practice. When the nets aren’t up, dogs run around the abandon courts.
Aimee Shrank, a stay-at-home mom of two, got into tennis about a year ago.
“My dad is a big tennis player. I didn’t get a chance to play much with him growing up,” Shrank said. “But when I had my daughter, we wanted to help her take lessons and I thought it looked really fun, so I started taking beginners lessons, too.”
Shrank lives in Belgrade. She shuttles her family to Bozeman for lessons. When the sun comes out again, Shrank had hoped to hit some balls at the Belgrade courts.
“There’s definitely a lot of cracks,” Shrank said. “We’ve been able to use them before. I’d love to see them in better condition. It’s hard to afford to play anywhere else.”
Klotz said refinishing the courts again would cost $70,000. The city parks and recreation budget, excluding salaries, is about $35,000 a year. While the cost to fix the courts is high, Klotz said community interest is relatively low.
A community survey about what Belgrade residents want most in city parks revealed folks want to maintain and expand soccer fields and baseball diamonds and the splash park.
Groups that hope to create something new, like the Belgrade Youth Forum with a skate park, are raising its own funds. The Belgrade High School softball players also work hard and fundraise to maintain their facilities.
“We would love to have brand new tennis courts and lots of other things,” Klotz said. “But if you just follow what the community wants, tennis courts would not come out on top.”
The Belgrade Parks and Recreation Board will meet tonight at 7 p.m. Belgrade tennis players like Filson plan to show up and discuss the state of the courts. The meeting is open to the public.
In other small Montana communities, tennis enthusiasts have rallied together to raise money to maintain courts. Livingston tennis players have applied for grants from five different community companies from Northwestern Energy to Town Pump. Larry Teeter, a Livingston tennis enthusiast said the community has rallied together around the sport.
“The tennis players in Livingston decided to form the Livingston/Park County Tennis Association and obtain 501c3 status,” Teeter said. “They then registered as a Community Tennis Association with the USTA. By working with the USTA and the Montana Tennis Association we have been able to receive a start up grant of $750.00 to incorporate and organize.”
The difference in Livingston is that the high school has had a tennis program for 30 years, luring kids, parents and spectators to the sport.
Belgrade resident Shannon Lindgren sends his daughter to Bozeman High School so she can play tennis. Lindgren grew up playing tennis in Glendive with his dad.
Lindgren’s father helped maintain court conditions and public enthusiasm for tennis. Glendive has a population of about 5,000. There are 10 courts in town. To keep those courts in good condition, Lindgren said several people in the town apply for grant money. Belgrade could do the same, Lindgren said.
“The tennis community of Belgrade is pretty big,” Lindgren said. “But most people go to Bozeman because the courts are so bad.”
Belgrade is one of two A-sized schools in the state that does not have a tennis program. Laurel is the other.
Since the two courts in Belgrade are in shambles, the tennis community is left to wonder what comes first, nice city courts to garner interest in tennis or a high school program to participate in.
“In addition to the deplorable condition of the courts at the city park, there is also concern that Belgrade and Laurel, the two largest Class A high schools in Montana do not have high school tennis programs,” Filson said. “Promising Belgrade tennis athletes are not developing their talents due to a lack of high school tennis in Belgrade.”
Belgrade District Athletic Director Rick Phillips said he’s only had a few people ever ask about why there is no tennis program at the high school.
“I’ve only had very, very limited interest,” Phillips said. “That’s why we haven’t really pushed it.”
If Belgrade moves to AA status, people will resume the spark of a tennis discussion, but for now, no one is asking him.
“It continues to come up when we discuss going to double A,” Phillips said. “But I can’t imagine we’d have to start a program right away.”
Phillips said the cost of starting a tennis program in Belgrade would be nearly half a million dollars. To put in one court, the district would hand over about $100,000. To have a program that accommodates a AA school, Belgrade would need at least four courts, bringing the price tag of a tennis program to the half million dollars mark.