Sports center changes, grows

A Springfield business has grown as volleyball becomes more popular locally, but as a result the community has lost its last spot for indoor tennis.

Game Time Sports Center, which opened in September 2011 in the former Springfield Racquet Club off Urbana Road, doubled its space for volleyball to include eight courts by converting the the area dedicated for tennis. It made the change to accommodate the rapidly growing Champaign County Sharks girl’s volleyball club and to attract large tournaments.

“When we took over and bought the facility it was only tennis memberships,” said Andrea Shiffer Tullis, owner of Game Time and founder of the Champaign County Sharks. “We kept tennis last year partly because we didn’t need the space yet for volleyball.”

But volleyball grew faster than expected, so Tullis decided to eliminate the tennis courts sooner than she thought she would.

“People were disappointed. Some have played here for 30 years and we knew them all,” Tullis said. “They were losing something they loved, and that was hard.”

The Springfield Racquet Club was opened by Greg Drudge about 40 years ago. But tennis in the area has slowly dwindled.

“(It) wasn’t booming and it was struggling a little bit and it was not being utilized as much as it should’ve been,” said David Engle, executive director of the Ohio Valley Tennis Association. Engle also is a retired Wittenberg tennis coach.

Engle said he doesn’t know why interest in tennis has waned in Springfield lately.

“Tennis overall in the country is doing fine, it’s just struggling in Springfield,” he said. “Springfield was one of the top tennis cities in the country 30 years ago.”

County Commissioner John Detrick played tennis at the former club for 30 years before the courts closed. Tennis now competes with other sports such as swimming and gymnastics, he said, which might have taken away some interest from younger players.

“This is one of our quality of life issues and, as a tennis player, I was hoping it would stay but I understand their decision,” Detrick said.

He said many of his fellow players have gone to tennis clubs in Dayton. So many of them attended a Dayton Center Court tournament in Trotwood last week that a sign there said “Welcome Springfield Racquet Club,” Detrick added.

“It’s great exercise and a great social outlet,” Detrick said. “People you play with on the tennis court are your friends and they’re nice to be around.”

The closing of the indoor tennis courts not only affects local tennis enthusiasts but local sports teams as well. Wittenberg University’s tennis team practiced at Game Time until recently.

Coach Justin Stuckey was unavailable for comment, but the team is searching for a place to play and is hosting an event to raise money for indoor playing time during the winter. The Harlem Globetrotters will perform at 7 p.m. Jan. 29 at Wittenberg University’s Pam Evans Smith Arena.

But while the remaining tennis community might be hurt, the growth of volleyball has allowed Game Time to grow and created the opportunity to attract tournaments that could bring hundreds of people to Clark and Champaign counties.

Coming up this month is an eight-court boys tournament that will host 32 teams and attract up to 1,000 people over a weekend. Game Time didn’t have the capability to host those tournaments until the tennis courts were converted.

“Many of those people will travel and will have to stay and need a place to stay,” Tullis said.

Not only does it attract people, it gives more locals the opportunity to play volleyball.

Tullis started the Champaign County Sharks to allow her daughters to play club volleyball locally five years ago with three teams.

Now the Sharks include 22 teams.

“That was a growth we didn’t expect, we really grew with the opening of this facility,” Tullis said.

Game Time has also started an adult league that currently has five teams, and hopes to add boys teams and beach volleyball facilities.

Beach volleyball has become huge, Tullis said, and with outdoor courts, the facility can host more tournaments.

“This has gone way beyond just teams for my kids,” Tullis said.

The facility remains open to other sports.

“There’s such a need for gym time in the winter,” Tullis said.

She said she has been contacted by softball teams and track teams who want to do some indoor practice and training. Game Time also has a basketball court available for practice and games.

Tullis emphasized the importance of flexibility. By abolishing the membership system in 2011, she said it allows people to rent courts and space for practice.

For more information, contact Game Time at 5151 Bogles Run Road, at (937) 484-3650.

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