For 35 years, tennis pro Teri Watland had a racquet in her hand at the Homewood-Flossmoor Park District’s Racquet & Fitness Club. She retired on Friday, Dec. 29.
Watland has been a fixture around the courts teaching all levels of tennis. Over the three-plus decades, she would give tennis lessons to students, then their children and their grandchildren. In a farewell message to club clients, Watland recalled how tennis may have connected them, but it also brought her into their lives celebrating births, birthdays and weddings.
“Time has gone so fast as I look back on so many years. I have been fortunate to be a part of your lives and very grateful you have been a part of mine,” she wrote. The coach was very grateful for all the good-bye and thanks messages she received through social media.
Watland took tennis lessons at the racquet club when it first opened. She started when she was 7 years old. She was a good player, but tennis wasn’t a sport that turned her on “because it wasn’t social enough for me.” So as a student at Homewood-Flossmoor High School, Watland played a variety of sports.
It was the need for a summer job that brought her back to the park district teaching tennis on the outdoor courts. She transitioned to being a parks employee starting in the maintenance and kids courts area. Watland often was a substitute teacher and “people started asking if I had my own classes. I thought I must be doing something right.”
Watland credits Sylvia Goddard, her “awesome mentor” who ran the tennis program, for encouraging her to stay with the sport and the park district. “She said to me: ‘If you’re going to stick around, you better be certified.’ So, I did.”
Watland recalled taking a three-hour written test covering everything from grips to strategies to court sense, and an on-court test that required her to hit a specific number of balls in each area of the court during play. By 21, Watland was United States Professional Tennis Association certified at the professional level, and by 23 at the elite level.
She played in numerous tennis tournaments with doubles partners. At one time, in the under 35 age category, Watland and her partner placed 24th in the nation.
Her newest certification was for pickleball, a sport that has really grabbed the public’s attention recently, but Watland said the game’s been around for decades. She remembers playing it as a student at H-F in the 1980s.
During her many hours on the racquet club courts, Watland taught students at all levels and ages. She really had a knack for bringing out the best in players. Many high school students she coached were on championship teams or took individual honors.
“I give my students all the credit. They can give me credit, but it’s up to them to make it work. I’m just giving them my knowledge,” Watland said. She recalls telling them: “I’d rather you get the sportsmanship award versus tournament honors. It’s really important to be a good person in life, and now you have all the skills.”
Watland bought a home in Naples, Florida. She wants to be somewhere warm for the winter months, but she will be returning to Homewood. The next few months she wants to use as a breather to reconnect with friends and play some tennis for her own enjoyment, and decide next steps.