When the Homewood-Flossmoor Park District was starting out 50 years ago, Mick Pope, the first executive director, wanted diverse offerings for an active and growing community.
Pope’s proposal for a tennis facility got great support. A site was selected at 2920 W. 183rd St. in Homewood and plans were drawn up for six indoor courts.
The problem was how to pay for it. The park district wasn’t in a position to sell general obligation bonds. Pope and supporters came up with a plan to sell revenue bonds that gave purchasers a share in the facility. It was the first time a park facility in Illinois was 100 percent financed through revenue bonds.
“It was two weeks before we were to let a contract to build (the tennis club), and the financing fell apart. We were ready to build but we had no money to pay the bills,” Pope recalled.
“So two of the park board members and myself got on the phone and we started to call people who had some money: doctors, attorneys, etc. We sold increments of $5,000. We needed something like $600,000 to $700,000 so it was a hill to climb and we did it,” Pope said. “Within two weeks we sold everything out and people did this on good faith and they trusted us.”
In January 1973, the H-F Tennis Club opened with 750 members and six courts. In 1976, two more tennis courts and four handball-racquetball courts were added.
“I was 7 years old in 1977 when I started playing here,” said Teri Watland of Homewood, who for the past 31 years has been a tennis pro at the club. “There was no pool here, or any of the other things.”
After graduating from Homewood-Flossmoor High School, Watland was hired to teach tennis part-time. Her supervisor, Sylvia Goddard, encouraged her to earn certification from the U.S. Professional Tennis Association. With that, Watland became an instructor and has been at it ever since. Today she teaches all levels of tennis.
The facility was renamed the H-F Racquet & Fitness Club in 1986 after it underwent another expansion that included a lap pool, additional tennis courts, an aerobic studio and a fitness room with exercise equipment in a converted racquetball court space.
In 1988, 1990 and 1996, the club won the Illinois Parks & Recreation Association Outstanding Facility Award.
In 1994, an examination of future needs was undertaken. When the club reopened in 1996, it had additions on the east side and south side and a new space for a fitness center.
Today members go to the fitness center to use cardiovascular equipment, the free weight area, strength training, a walking path and a chance to participate in group fitness classes.
Eileen Rohrer has worked at the club for 29 years, moving up from bookkeeper to the club’s manager.
“The thing I think is unique about the club is it’s a community. Everyone’s welcome. We have something for everyone, whether it’s tennis, swimming, racquet sports, aerobics or high intensity workouts. This is not a boutique facility that focuses on just one facet of health and wellness,” she said.
Age doesn’t matter, she stressed. Young children can be taken care of in the childcare center while a parent gets time in for a workout. Many members come to get in or stay in shape, or just for the enjoyment of playing a game of tennis. Older adults want to keep moving, Rohrer said. The club offers a variety of programs that are paced for everyone’s needs. Personal trainers will help set a path for members.
“And the friendships that are made there are long-lasting. You can’t buy that. I see that people really care about each other. When someone’s not around there’s concern. Friends want to know everything’s all right,” Rohrer noted.
Watland, who considers herself a tennis ambassador for the club, sees the center as ”a gem in our community, and we should be proud of it and capitalize on it.”
For information on the club’s offerings and schedule, visit hfracquetandfitness.com.