The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Sports

September 29, 2012

Annie Clarkson honored for contributions to Joplin tennis

As Annie Clarkson sat outside the clubhouse at Joplin Athletic Complex, her friends from a lifetime of tennis stopped by to congratulate and thank her.

Clarkson, who was on hand Saturday for the annual Joplin Open Tennis Tournament, was presented with a Lifetime Service Award for her dedication in organizing and promoting tennis in the Joplin area.

“Honestly, I think it’s more than 24 years,” she said, recalling an era when tennis facilities in Joplin were more limited. “I started sometime in the mid-’80s, but that was as far back as I could remember.”

The Joplin Athletic Complex, where the Joplin Open is held, was the result of years of planning on how best to replace or complement the tennis courts at nearby Schifferdecker Park. It was named the 2008 USTA Missouri Valley Missouri Facility of the Year.

“Annie will tell you that something needed to be done 10 years before it was done,” said Sean McWilliams, head tennis coach at Joplin High School. “The city stepped up with a beautiful sports complex. We’re very fortunate to have it.

“As you can see, with people stopping by, you can see how much she has influenced the sport of tennis in the community, not just in Joplin, but in all surrounding areas. She has always reached out to other communities as well to increase the number of participants in the game.”

In the 1980s, the city’s most popular tennis courts were at Landreth, Ewert, Leonard and Roanoke parks, along with the courts at Schifferdecker Park, where the city held its leagues and tournaments, Clarkson said. Tennis courts later were built at what is now Missouri Southern State University.

Another milestone came in November 1999 with the opening of Millennium Tennis & Fitness Club, which brought professional tennis to Joplin with USTA Pro Circuit events.

“It’s a fantastic facility,” Clarkson said. “It has done a lot to boost tennis in the area. They have great professional coaching, beautiful facilities and they bring in professional events.”

Although tennis in Joplin goes back nearly 100 years, the Joplin Open has not been a continous, annual event, Clarkson said. “This current generation, we can trace it back to the mid-1960s,” she said. “Every interesting story I have about the Joplin open involves this player right here.”

The player she referred to was Chris Baker, a native of Joplin who has played in local tournaments for five decades. Baker won his first of many Joplin Open titles in 1971 and went on to win more than 60 championships in Joplin tournaments, he said.

“I looked at a picture taken in 1972. We had steel nets at Schifferdecker and white tennis balls,” he said. “In Joplin, the courts have evolved. The equipment has changed quite a bit, but the game itself hasn’t changed. The one-on-one nature of it sets it apart from other sports.”

He said the popularity of tennis in Joplin reached a peak in 1978 with 68 participants in the Joplin Open, which was considered the championship of the area. The challenge of maintaining interest and participation in tennis fell largely upon Clarkson, he said.

“We wouldn’t have had tennis leagues without her,” Baker said.

The award presented to Clarkson states, “In Recognition of 24 years of Outstanding Dedication and Service to the Joplin Tennis Association.”

McWilliams said his memories of Clarkson span most of his adult life.

“I used to drive from Columbus, Kan. to play in a Tuesday night men’s league,” he said. “She made a phone call to the school district 12 years ago and gave a good recommendation.

“It really is because of Annie. She is a huge part of my tennis life and hundreds of kids who have played in high school.”

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