Looking Back at Mines Tennis

There has lately been a movement–not highly successful–to get the school to build an asphalt tennis court. Something must be done soon or Mines will have no tennis team… There is no reason why good courts cannot be built in Golden… Mines has several good tennis players, and should stand an excellent chance of winning the tennis championship this year–if there is a team. 

LWP, The Oredigger, April 4, 1921

     A lot has happened on the tennis front at Mines since early 1921, but in many ways the situation is the same. But in February of the following year, construction began on an indoor court to be open to students in the Armory. At least the Orediggers of the early 1920s had a place to rally on campus, albeit a sometimes muddy clay one.

     Tennis has been a staple pastime at Mines since at least 1913, as the annual from that year depicts a spiffy team in the sports section, claiming to win the “1912 intercollegiate title.” A later 1921 article introduces the annual fall tennis tournament, which featured students as well as staff, to be “becoming a fixture in the sport annals of the School of Mines.” There was some version of a ‘varsity’ team before this time, but it was discontinued due to a lack of sufficient playing space. Intramurals, interfraternity rivalries, and community gatherings still thrived on the beaten-up clay courts. Then in 1935, a professor took a few names from the IM list, held a few practices, and the Orediggers hosted their first home match against CU on April 10th. Although Mines only won a doubles match, The Oredigger reported that; “when the net men met Boulder there were quite a few spectators present, showing that the Mines spirit still prevails.”

     The sport was so popular that when the old clay courts were demolished to make way for the Works Progress Administration’s Berthoud Hall, the university purchased the lots where the current Geology Museum sits for the specific purchase of four cement tennis courts, “to be the finest in the state.” The Mines courts have sat on that plot of land ever since. Intramural popularity continued, drawing upwards for 50 players for tournaments throughout the thirties and forties. The men’s varsity team continued to compete, joining the RMAC, and winning conference titles in 1953, 54, 74, 83, 88, 2000, 02, and 04. If you look up in Lockridge Arena you can still see that championship sewn into the banner. That makes the Mines men’s tennis team one of the top five most prolific athletic teams in program history. But that all came crashing down following their 2004 championship. 

     According to the Mines Athletics Department, several issues brought an end to the team after the 2004-05 season. Low participation, academic performance, and player retention were all cited as reasons for disbanding the program. The RMAC stopped sponsoring men’s tennis altogether after the 2017-18 season and women’s tennis after 2018-19, as the number of teams in the conference dipped below five. Despite the loss of the varsity program, club sports have kept a form of the team alive. 

     “Club tennis lets the team play a game they love without all the pressure they might’ve had growing up,” says Sam Shnowske, former president of Mines club tennis. “In some ways, [this team] lets players rediscover their love for the game.” For years, there has been no formal limit on the club’s roster, it was just trimmed at the beginning of each semester to keep play competitive. This fall, club sports attempted to institute a roster cap of 20 players, but the team was able to push back to get 30 spots. “I was initially against the roster cap, because we needed to pay for court rentals,” said Shnowske. “However, the change helped maintain better players because the practices were more competitive.” Renting courts has not been an issue until recently.

     After losing their varsity team, the athletics department no longer maintained the campus tennis courts. After more than ten years of purely recreational use by Mines students in the spring of 2017, the courts were condemned. The site that had been used for sport, comradery, stress-relief, and amusement since 1939 was deemed a hazard to public safety. Held indefinitely under lock and key until the next wave of the master plan demolishes it to presumably become green space outside athletic department offices. “Now since we play off-campus, practices take up more time because of the commute,” said Shnowske. Since many of the players on the team are first-years, carpooling is essential and can sometimes be a logistical challenge.

     The cost of building new courts from scratch varies but would be around $20,000 per court. That may sound like a lot, but it would be a worthwhile investment. During the 2018-19 academic year, the club team spent $9,936 renting courts. Assuming that the four condemned courts were completely redone at a cost of $80,000, it would only take about eight years for that amount to be saved by the student body. That excludes the potential for renting to outside parties.  As recently as 2019 approved budget office documents (two years after the courts were formally condemned), the price of outside groups to rent the non-existent tennis courts was $20 per hour per court. In short, regardless of benefits to student morale and money saved by club sports, a project to renovate the site would have the potential to break even in several years assuming reasonable management.

     This sport has been a prevalent part of Oredigger life for over 100 years. On a campus of 5,000 students, it is ridiculous to limit the number of Mines kids allowed to play tennis consistently to 30. If the draft final master plan released in 2018 is operating on a budget large enough to turn K-lot into a garage with new IM fields on top; there is no doubt the space and means to do the same with tennis courts. Mines is the only university, of any size, I am aware of that does not provide functional tennis courts, and there is frankly no good reason that it can’t happen. 


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