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History Buried in Clay

May 23, 2013 12:08 PM
Frick Park Clay Courts
Once described as one of Pittsburgh’s best-kept secrets, the clay courts at Frick Park are now a cornerstone of the tennis community
Jose Mieres didn’t know what he was getting into.
While working on a graduate school research project in 2007, Mieres came across the story of Frick Park’s tennis courts, which were built in 1930 and have since seen their fair share of ups, downs, and times in between. It was a bad time for the historic clay courts, as plans were being discussed to eliminate the clay and create a group of hard courts which would be easier to maintain and keep up.
"It was like finding an old castle or archeology project, then realizing they were going to build over it," he said. "I couldn’t believe it was going to happen, so I got involved."
What began as a research project evolved into a passion.
Just six short years after discovering the project, the courts at Frick Park are in better shape than ever, serving the local community with programming like USTA League Tennis, Tournaments and 10 and Under Tennis, among the various free clinics, local tournaments and more.
"We’ve done a lot of work to get these courts to where they are today and to set ourselves up like this," Mieres said. "It was not easy and did not just happen. It took a big effort that a lot of people don’t realize, but it is really worth it."
That "big effort" began when Mieres learned of the courts and the plans to replace them. Right away, Mieres was fascinated with the history of Frick Park, which for the better part of a century was an integral piece in the Pittsburgh tennis world. Since their inception, the courts hosted one of the city’s most popular adult tennis tournaments for 70 years and were frequented by some of the area’s top pros and amateurs, along with families, kids and first time players.
Wondering about the plans the city had in mind for the courts, and the reasons behind those plans, Mieres began to ask questions. The problem was simple: there wasn’t enough help — or money —to keep the high-maintenance clay courts up and running.
Realizing something had to be done, Mieres found a few local players and got involved, looking for ways to keep the unique courts in operation.
"We asked the city for tools, and didn’t have much success, so we just got them ourselves," he said.
"We reached out to the community and got an outpour of support and help to get them back into shape."
Just like that, the courts were stacked with action once again. "By the next year, it was a done deal. The courts were there to stay," Mieres said. "We showed the city what we could do and signed a formal agreement to keep it going for four years."
The planning and hard work didn’t stop, and the effort made was quickly recognized. In April, a 10-year agreement went into effect, registering Frick Park as a Community Tennis Association, further securing the clay courts’ place in Pittsburgh for at least another decade.
Frick Park is serving much more than the local community with a top-notch tennis experience — it’s also going international. Forthe last several years, Mieres has worked with international coaches from Spain to bring Spanish players to Pittsburgh for a tournament in June for boys and girls in age categories for 12, 14 and 16. Last year, the draw featured nearly 100 participants, with many players coming from overseas.
"This place has come a long way, and there is so much more we can do," Mieres said. "I’m happy we could preserve the history of it and continue to build on this history. The players take care of the courts and it’s a true team effort.. Every tournament player, league player, they have to take care of the courts. It’s not just me and a couple of guys. It’s everybody."
ONLINE ONLY: Check out Kambiz Doonboli's award-winning photography of Frick Park.




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