Open House Planned, New Courts in Works as Platform Tennis Takes Off

Posted on: September 1, 2017

In the middle of the cold, dark winter, players dress in layers, put on their gloves and head for the tennis courts. The platform tennis courts, that is. The sport is enjoying a surge of popularity these days and the Glen Ellyn Park District is stepping up to meet the increased interest in two ways: a Platform Tennis Open House and Exhibition on September 15 and the addition of two new courts to the existing four.

“It’s a little bit similar to regular tennis,” said Mark Cunnington, Glen Ellyn Park District Director of Racquet Sports. “You play it in the winter months, predominantly.”

The open house will feature demonstrations and playing opportunities for those intrigued by the sport. There is no charge for the event but registration is required.

Open to both adults and children, the open house will feature several of the area’s top professionals who will demonstrate proper form and give instruction. The schedule includes a junior clinic, for children ages 6 through 14, from 5pm to 6pm, a ladies clinic from 6pm to 7pm and a men’s clinic from 7pm to 8pm. The event ends with a professional exhibition and open play from 8pm to 9pm.

Cunnington said the sport differs from regular tennis in several ways. It’s played on a screened-in court that actually becomes part of the game. Players may play the ball off the back and side walls. The court’s surface, which is made of aluminum, is heated, so precipitation melts, leaving a gritty surface.

“Also, you only get one serve. In tennis, you get two serves,” said Cunnington.

The equipment is different from regular tennis, too.  The ball is made of a hard rubber material with flocking, so they look like tennis balls, but they perform differently, and paddles look distinctly different from tennis racquets.

Cunnington said players wear regular tennis shoes. The sport is rigorous and, because the court is gritty, shoes tend to wear quickly.

Some players wear gloves, but Cunnington doesn’t.

“I put a hand warmer in my pocket because I want to feel the grips,” he said.

The game, sometimes referred to as paddle tennis, is ramping up in this area, with over 320 members in the Glen Ellyn Park District’s platform tennis program. There are 200 players on 15 men’s teams and four ladies’ teams, with a fifth ladies team expected to soon be added. Teams travel to neighboring cities and villages for competitions.

Play is coordinated through the North Shore League, where players compete in towns such as  Highland Park, Lake Forest and Lake Bluff and through the Southwestern League, where play is hosted at courts in Glen Ellyn, Hinsdale and Burr Ridge. The leagues are affiliated with the Chicago Platform Tennis Club.

Cunnington said players are designated as belonging to one of 33 levels of play, based on ability, with series one players being the most competitive.

Glen Ellyn teams have between 10 and 12 people on each team and virtually all play is on doubles teams.

Cunnington said there has been a significant jump in interest from women, who have been competing at 16 play levels quite successfully.

“They’ve done really well,” he said.

Though there’s no Glen Ellyn Park District league available for youth, Cunnington said he would like to see more youth get involved.

“There’re a few kids that would like to make it a club sport at their high schools,” he said.

Youth play in the afternoons is available during the season. Youth are also welcome to attend the open house.

In addition to regular leagues, Cunnington said a Monday night in-house league is set to begin this fall.

“It’s for people who want to try it, get their feet wet,” said Cunnington. “It was so big last year, this year we’ll have skill levels.”

Currently, the Glen Ellyn Park District has four platform tennis courts, all located in Maryknoll Park on Pershing Road.

With the sport’s popularity escalating, the park district is planning to build two more courts, to be located adjacent to the four courts currently in Maryknoll Park.

“Hopefully, we’re going to be breaking ground soon,” said Cunnington.