Mitchell Tennis Association

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Tennis Court Expansion Marks More Growth in Mitchell

Sept. 1, 2016; by Marcus Traxler, The Daily Republic

Mitchell assistant tennis coach Chad Larson acknowledges a standing ovation during the Mitchell Tennis Association's community recognition event at Hitchcock Park. Larson will have one of the four new courts at the park named in his honor (Marcus Traxler/Republic) 


If the growth in Mitchell's tennis community wasn't apparent before, there is proof of it now at Hitchcock Park.

More than 100 people gathered Thursday between the eight existing tennis courts and the four new courts that are about a month from being finished at the park on Mitchell's east side. An event was held to honor the project's contributors and celebrate Mitchell's tennis success with a social and doubles tennis mixer.

The $300,000 project already has dirt work completed and the court will be framed starting next week. The city of Mitchell contributed $125,000 to the project and the Mitchell School District put $75,000 toward the new courts. The Mitchell Tennis Association is raising money for the remaining $100,000.

Pat Moller, who coaches the Mitchell High School boys and girls teams and is also president of the Mitchell Tennis Association, said the support has been nearly overwhelming.

"You hear it all the time but it's really a sport for life," he said. "You can play when you're eight and you can play when you're 80. These courts open up so much more opportunities and it's a terrific effort by the parents and members of this community. I haven't heard a negative word about this project and I think it goes to show what kind of support Mitchell has given to this sport."

The MTA offered up naming rights to each of the four new courts for $10,000 to help pay for the project, recognizing the families of Kim and Deb Lorenzen, Wayne and Mary Puetz and Diane and Dan DesLauriers. The fourth court honoree was a surprise until Thursday, when outgoing association president Melanie Mullenmeister revealed that longtime Mitchell tennis supporter Chad Larson would be honored with a court in his name. The recognition was funded by other Mitchell tennis parents who wanted to recognize Larson's seemingly endless contributions to the program.

"Chad is one of those people who gives to Mitchell tennis tirelessly and selflessly," Mullenmeister said. "He cares more about the kids than you can imagine and he gets the joy in seeing them succeed."

Larson has been an MHS assistant tennis coach for 12 years and has been running the MTA's men's league for about 15 years. He's given lessons to youth tennis players, as well as recording youth accomplishments in various tournaments.

"Coming from the families and the kids who have spent so much time in this program, that's what means the most to me," said Larson, who was brought to tears by the gesture.

Moller said fundraising can be a challenge but the sport's growing participation in Mitchell is proof that the courts will get plenty of use.

"Given the way our programs are growing at the youth and school levels, I don't think there's any question that the courts will be used quite a bit and that's pretty exciting for the people in our community who are passionate about tennis," he said.

Mullenmeister, who remembers playing tennis at Hitchcock Park as early as fifth grade, said it's a tennis dream come true.

"It's been years of dreaming and we've gone from four courts here to eight courts and now up to 12," she said. "We can host Eastern South Dakota Conference meets and when we're having youth tournaments, we don't have to be playing to midnight. We're going to have a beautiful set of courts here."

Betty McNeil Wins US Tennis Association Honor

Oct. 11, 2012; by Brooke Cersosimo, The Daily Republic

The compliments about Betty McNeil ring loudly from Chad Larson.

"She's a talented tennis player, a class act, a role model, an educator, a friend to many, the face of Mitchell and South Dakota tennis, and most importantly, a good sport," Larson, a Mitchell Tennis Association board member, wrote in a recommendation letter for a prestigious United States Tennis Association award.

McNeil, a Mitchell resident, was recently honored with the USTA Northern Section's Albert Teeter Adult Sportsmanship Award. The award began in 1963 and is given to a USTA member annually. It is presented to an adult player within the northern section, which includes Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota, who displays fairness and is a model of good sportsmanship while playing tennis.

She received the news Monday and said that she couldn't believe her eyes when she read the email.

"I was in total and absolute shock," said McNeil, a teacher at John Paul II and MTA board member. "It's very humbling that I received this award out of all of the people out there."

McNeil was nominated by Chris Dummermuth, the USTA's Tennis Service Representative for the northern section. McNeil was selected by a USTA committee from a slate of nominees.

Dummermuth and McNeil are tennis acquaintances and believes McNeil was the right person for the award.

"She epitomizes what a good sport is in life," Dummermuth said. "She's just a great testament that tennis is a lifetime sport. She plays for the right reason and that shows when she's out on the court."

Dummermuth, who won the award in 2001, contacted Larson and asked him to add to her nomination for McNeil. He accepted, of course.

"People know Betty because of her character and personality on and off the court," Larson said.

"Having her win an award like this represents what we try to do here in Mitchell. We try to instill that in all the younger players and teach them to play the right way. I think Betty is one of many that does that around here, and I think that award went to one of the best."

Melanie Mullenmeister, president of the MTA, has played with McNeil since her youth.

"She was patient enough to start playing with me when I was 10 and has played a huge part in developing my love for the game," Mullenmeister said. "She's always had a positive attitude and shows a sincere love for the game, and you can see that when you're lucky enough to play with her."

McNeil plays three to four times a week during the summer season and has played in USTA tournaments as a part of a senior league team out of Rapid City for the past two years. She also plays doubles with Larson when she gets the chance.

"It's really easy to play with her because she'll always play with the respect of the game and her opponents," said Larson, who is also the Mitchell High School assistant boys' tennis coach. "It's really much more than winning or losing. It's about the camaraderie and friendships you make along the way.

"She is out at the tennis courts a lot and she always wants to play and will play with anybody no matter the level."

McNeil began playing tennis when she was 35 years old and has continued to play for the last 32 years.

"I've met so many people throughout the state and nation through tennis," McNeil said. "It's unbelievable the connections you make when you have something in common like that. I would have never made those friends if it wasn't for tennis."

2008 South Dakota Tennis Achievement Award

Mitchell Tennis Association: Simply "A-maizing"

By Chris DummermuthJuly 2008

Photo by Tyler Osterloo


Jon Osterloo, Melanie Mullenmeister, Betty McNeil and Chad Larson 

JULY 2008 — As you approach Mitchell from any direction, signs have you convinced that their lone "a-maizing" attraction might be the world-famous Corn Palace, but a visit to Hitchcock Park will reveal what a thriving tennis community abounds. With just eight courts, the Mitchell Tennis Association has shaped this city of 14,696 into one of the most enthusiastic, efficient South Dakota tennis towns.

No one could pinpoint exactly when the ball started spinning, but several familiar family names: Puetz, Young and DesLauriers, always surfaced as being instrumental in getting the ball in play. Absolutely every person I spoke to about MTA credited everyone else’s efforts with their group success.

John Cersosimo, Laura Klinkhammer, Chad Larson, Betty McNeil, Tom Meyers, Carrie Mitchell, Melanie Mullenmeister, Jon Osterloo and Pete Spates make up the 2008 Mitchell Tennis Board. The board guides the operation of leagues, tournaments, special events and their newsletter, MTC Baselines.

Dave Houston, former MTA board member, tournament director, league organizer, and now teacher and coach in Denison, Iowa, reminisced about the beginnings of men’s league in Mitchell. Houston said that Scott Loecker rounded up about 12 guys on Monday nights; they would flight the matches and play. That original Monday night 12 have grown into flights of 50-plus men managed by Chad Larson with help from Sam Reimnitz. Laura Klinkhammer monitors the 38 women participating in league this summer. Beginner lessons are offered on league nights with the hope that lesson participants will want to sign up for league next year.

The Mitchell Tennis Classic materialized in phases. In the early 80s, a tournament was organized with about 42 mostly local participants. Then using community ties and word of mouth, the tournament grew into a non-sanctioned adult and junior tournament run simultaneously. The feeling around the state seemed to be – if you support our tournament, we’ll support yours which spirited the tournament’s growth. Houston called Betty McNeil the "Great Ambassador." She seemed to know everyone who played and always extended a welcome.

Today, the Mitchell Tennis Classic is a favorite of South Dakota juniors and adults, and has drawn up to 300 participants. You can see MTC T-shirts scattered on players all over the state, and Mitchell was one of the first adult tournaments to provide unique, usable prizes. For years the tournament was played the same weekend as Arts in the Park which was an added attraction.

In addition to the tournament, the MTA conducts other special events. Two Saturdays in May, MTA members donate their time to a three-hour event where kids can come and learn how to play tennis. They aim to create fun while tweaking their interest in the game in hopes that they will sign up for the Park & Rec lessons. From 7 p.m. to midnight Thursday nights, all levels and ages are invited for open hits, games and drills. These "open hit" nights average around 40 people per week, and the courts are full.

In 2006, the MTA rallied the state behind the Sam Reimnitz Doubles Tournament, a fundraiser to help out a South Dakota tennis supporter who was seriously injured in an accident. The response was so overwhelming, that the event will enjoy its third year this fall. When asked what the Mitchell Tennis Association means to him, Sam responded, "Wow! They are an unbelievable second family to me. Their efforts on my behalf were totally unexpected and greatly appreciated!"

The MTA was awarded the OPPAT (One Player at a Time) grant from the USTA. This is offered to towns that show a lot of community involvement. They are now working on a grant that will allow for court improvements or lights. An additional dream is to have four to six courts built at another location in the city.

The Mitchell Tennis Board agrees that a good association is vital. Everyone pitches in and does their specific job. John Cersosimo says, "We’re all about participation. We’re not about creating the next superstar … it’s about people of all levels and all ages getting out on the courts and having fun! It’s community tennis."

"One big happy family" is cliché that sometimes inspires sarcasm or even envy, but when used to describe the Mitchell Tennis Association, it evokes genuine awe. To borrow a phrase from an I-90 billboard, "Ears to you," MTA!






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