Tennis flare-up causes City Council to push off repaving projects

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Jim Swiggart

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John Aragon

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Don Toy

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Carol Baily

— Steamboat Springs High School tennis coach Don Toy offered a predictable response when asked what it’s been like practicing with his team at the Tennis Center at Steamboat Springs since he and John Aragon had their contracts as instructors at the facility nonrenewed by the the concessionaire, Jim Swiggart.

“Extremely awkward,” Toy said.

That may describe a couple of practices at the city-owned, privately run Steamboat Springs complex, but it also sums up what’s been an intense few days for the city’s tennis community.

Aragon and Toy were told Friday that their contracts wouldn’t be renewed, and long-time fellow tennis pro Carol Baily, in support of the other two, decided not to accept her renewal offer. The moves came just days after Swiggart’s own contract with the city had been renewed.

On Wednesday, Swiggart didn’t close the door on an opportunity for a reunion.

“I don’t want the community with John, Don and Carol to assume that there will be a reconciliation, but there’s always a chance,” he said.

All those emotions manifested Tuesday during the Steamboat Springs City Council budget retreat, and those who showed up in support of the three pros were successful in making an impression on the council.

Although the council is not in position to do much — it has no say on personnel issues at the center — the overwhelming show of support did push it to consider its options.

“They packed the room,” City Council member Cari Hermacinski said. “We’ve seen the user numbers, and I think half of the regular users of the Tennis Center were in that room.”

Hermacinski proposed the council delay for one year a planned multiyear, $250,000 project to resurface the center’s clay courts.

It passed unanimously.

Part of her motivation was to save money in a tough economy, she said. Another part was the estimated 70 supporters who filed into the meeting room.

“They were saying things like, ‘We will not use the tennis bubble. We are not buying annual passes. We will boycott it,’” she said. “I don’t know if they’re bluffing or if this emotion that is running high will continue, but I was looking at it saying, ‘When we’re having budget challenges anyway, maybe we shouldn’t be pouring capital in resurfacing clay courts when we have a tennis community that is up in arms and will be boycotting that place.’”

The council won’t stop funding for vital upkeep, including $35,000 for planned maintenance to repair fabric and replace lights. It did, however, stop $68,000, the first of the $250,000 for clay resurfacing.

Swiggart said he was disappointed.

“The Tennis Center is 20 years old, and although it won facility of the year in 2011, like all of the city assets, it has to be maintained,” Swiggart said. “We have a clay court that very well may have to be shut down unless it’s maintained, and it’s really sad they took that capital money out of the budget.

“I would ask the council what I’ve asked the community, and that is to be patient and give us a chance.”

In the words of some in the tennis community, a boycott is a very real thing.

“We won’t walk in the Tennis Center again,” Tom Valicenti said.

Valicenti’s daughter played high school tennis for Aragon and Toy until graduating in the spring. His wife, Marci Valicenti, spent five years on the Steamboat Tennis Association board of directors.

“Our kids are graduated, but I want to give the kids who are coming up the same opportunity my kids had, and that’s not going to happen without John and Don,” he said.

Personality conflict cited

Toy said he was informed Friday that his contract wouldn’t be renewed and that he was told it was because of a personality conflict.

“Jim asked me to teach a lesson at 11 a.m. At 12:10, I walked into his office, and he told me my contract wasn’t going to be renewed,” Toy said. “I asked him why, and he said, ‘Because we don’t get along very well.’

“I told him, ‘I seem to get along with all my clients.’ It took 10 minutes.”

Swiggart said that may be a concise and partial version but that it was accurate.

“That was certainly part of it,” he said, regarding his relationship with Toy. “I asked him how he thought our relationship was. He said, ‘fair.’ I said, ‘I think fair is overstating it.’ But that’s not to say that’s the reason I didn’t renew his contract.”

Swiggart on Sunday said Aragon was nonrenewed because of a lack of focus on the center’s junior academy, which was down 34 percent throughout the past three years. Swiggart declined to comment on Toy’s nonrenewal at the time.

Toy said he didn’t buy the idea that Aragon and himself had slacked off on recruiting athletes to the junior academy program.

“That’s absurd,” he said. “You have to be careful in calling the kettle black.”

He did acknowledge he and Swiggart hadn’t gotten along well.

“My view is, so what? It’s been that way for quite a while,” Toy said. “The avenues for talking about things were closed a long time ago.”

He said the endgame with appealing to the City Council was to broker some sort of peace, and although he admitted returning to work at the center would be awkward, it would be something he’d do.

“Coaching tennis is what I love to do,” Toy said.

Scott Franz contributed to this story

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com

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