Jim Webster: No Trauma Center

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I admit it, I am addicted. I am a tennis player and I play almost every day at the Tennis Center — perhaps better known today as the “Trauma Center.” But, not to get ahead of my story, I was not always addicted.

I didn’t play tennis before I moved to Steamboat. I showed up at the Tennis Center at Steamboat Springs in 2009 and began taking clinics from Don Toy. He taught me backhands, forehands and doubles strategy. I started to get my tennis “fix” on a regular basis. I paid for more help from John Aragon, Lynne Myers, Carol Baily and Jim Swiggart. My addiction increased. Each professional had a different approach and prescribed their own “medical” treatment. My team of professional “caregivers” kept me challenged and coming back for more. I never quite lived up to my own expectations, but then, my U.S. Open prospects are nil at my advancing age.

I soon met other “patients” at the Tennis Center, and I started to understand how the treatment facility was run. It was city-owned with a modest annual deficit. The bubble was replaced in 2005-06 with private donations and city funds in a time when the economy was booming and the sky was the limit. Jim and Stacy Swiggart, who have run the facility since 1992, had their contract up for renewal Sept. 30, 2012.

In 2012, I co-chaired the Steamboat Tennis Association fundraiser because I appreciated the importance of the junior tennis program in building the development of some of our young people. However, I realized that some of my golfing friends, who did not play tennis, wondered why the city was subsidizing such an “elite” sport. Frankly, I did not feel any more like an elite athlete playing tennis than golf at Haymaker Golf Course, which just happens to be another city-owned facility.

With the events of the past 10 days, I now realize that the Tennis Center suddenly has become a Trauma Center with Toy, Aragon and Baily no longer providing the patients with their “fix.” Why? The city knows little about how to run a tennis center, and it only gets involved to renew the concessionaire’s contract, at which time it hires a consultant. City management did not start contract renewal negotiations until about midyear, which left Jim Swiggart and the coaching staff in limbo until the last minute. Under new contract terms, Jim Swiggart is compelled to make changes at the Tennis Center. The past three years of economic decline have not been kind to player attendance, though this should not be a surprise to anyone. Changes were going to happen regardless of who won the concessionaire contract.

Now, the players apparently are threatening to boycott the Tennis Center because of the surprising dismissal or resignations of the long-term tennis professionals. And the City Council appears like it is retaliating in light of the threatened players’ boycott by denying some funds for much-needed tennis court maintenance.

To help remedy matters, the focus should return to the needs of the paying players (and parents of junior players) and enhanced communication among the concerned stakeholders. Everyone will lose without player support. For a start, the Tennis Center should have a players advisory committee that can meet with the concessionaire on a regular basis to provide communication about coaches, operations, etc. This mandate is not covered by the STA, which specifically is dedicated to supporting junior tennis.

The current City Council may regret having built the Tennis Center, but in my view, it is an important Steamboat asset to be nurtured so that it continues to contribute to the well being of the city. Timely communication among all stakeholders is vital. The Tennis Center should be a “Patient Center” and not a “Trauma Center.”

Jim Webster

Steamboat Springs

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