ACTA HistoryHistory: Nestled among voluminous trees and perfectly manicured lawns stands the City of Auburn/Auburn University Yarbrough Tennis Center. The 18-acre public facility, which is also home to the Auburn University men’s and women’s tennis teams, houses 34 tennis courts—16 clay, 12 hard, and 6 indoor. The center also boasts other world-class amenities, including locker rooms, a pro shop, grandstands, concessions, coaches’ rooms, and lighting that far exceeds the standards of most recreational facilities.
Auburn Community Tennis Association
The Auburn Community Tennis Association (ACTA) was founded in 2004 with the purpose, “…to promote, develop, and enhance tennis at all levels in the Auburn area by providing programs, events, and services.” The first leaders of the ACTA were President: Phillip Wiley, Executive Director: Becky Richardson, Co-Vice Presidents: Dave & Mary Ellen Thomson along with several other board members.
The early years of the ACTA saw the advent of several programs that continue today: Annual Tennis Carnival, First Friday Tennis Mixers, Junior Team Tennis, and USTA tournaments & leagues. As well the ACTA organized a Tennis in The Parks program that brought tennis to children in the Auburn City Schools and Boys & Girls Clubs in the area. The new association also added impetus to the drive to improve tennis facilities in the area, this drive culminated with the official opening of the Yarbrough Tennis Center on November 2nd, 2007.
The ACTA expanded tennis programs for adults and juniors in 2007 & 2008, and worked to partner with area tennis organizations such as the Opelika Tennis Association, Auburn University Tennis Association, Columbus (GA) Regional Tennis Association, and others.
In 2008 Travis DeBardelaben was hired as the Director for the Yarbrough Tennis Center which marked another step in the growth of tennis in the area. Also in this year a website for the ACTA was put in place, an ACTA logo was developed, a tennis directory listing all local players was published, ACTA t-shirts were distributed, the ACTA was a presenter at the Alabama Community Tennis Association Workshop held in Montgomery, Auburn hosted its’ first professional tournament – a USTA women’s Pro Circuit tournament, and a prestigious Bullfrog juniors tournament brought junior players from throughout the southeast to Auburn.
In 2009 the ACTA was selected as the Alabama Community Tennis Association of the Year, President Bret Peterson, Secretary Jennifer Stephens, and Tennis Advisor Travis DeBardelaben accepted the award in Birmingham. As well in 2009 and 2010 events such as the Alabama Cup tournament, USTA Tennis on Campus, and the ACTA Annual Awards Banquet were added to the Auburn tennis calendar; and to cap off 2010 Travis DeBardelaben was selected as the Alabama Tennis Professional of the Year.
The Auburn Community Tennis Association,….YOUR tennis association, looks forward to fulfilling its’ mandate to promote the growth and development of tennis in our community.
written by Bret Peterson, 31 Dec 2011
The Yarborough Tennis Center Partnership
Looking at this bustling tennis Mecca today, you would never know that less than 18 months ago this shimmering center did not exist. In fact, until recently, the city of Auburn (population 51,906) had just six public tennis courts within its limits. "At one time we had about 20 courts, but over the years those courts were removed to make way for new buildings or they fell into disrepair," recalls Becky Richardson, director of parks and recreation for the City of Auburn. "With just six courts, it’s hard to have leagues, tournaments and clinics. Plus, during the school year, the school teams had priority. To be honest, there simply were not enough courts to go around."
Auburn University (AU) was experiencing similar problems. A perennial athletic powerhouse, AU’s tennis facilities were outdated and woefully inadequate—especially for teams that play in the ultra-competitive Southeastern Conference (SEC). "It was no secret that we needed to improve our tennis facilities," says Meredith Jenkins, senior associate athletic director/senior woman administrator at Auburn University. "We had only six courts and no indoor facilities. It was becoming a strain and made it harder to recruit top players."
With both needing new tennis facilities, the City and the University would soon share a common destiny thanks to a chance meeting between Richardson and Jenkins. The two women know each other well and have worked together before on joint efforts—for instance, the City and University paired up recently to host play-in games for the Little League World Series. When Richardson mentioned that the City was purchasing a large swath of land for a new tennis complex, Jenkins casually asked if there was any extra space on the property for the University to build courts, not thinking anything would ever come of it. But something did.
Within weeks, Auburn’s city planner and the University’s athletic director were involved. An assessment of the 18-acre property—part of which was donated by the family of Dr. Cecil Yarbrough, a longtime professor of veterinary sciences at the University—revealed there was indeed enough room to construct both a tennis facility for the City and one for the University. Just as encouraging, it was determined that building the two facilities in tandem would save both the City and the University significant amounts of money.
The next step was to secure funding. The City proposed dipping into the 5 Mills Tax Fund, an account used to finance capital projects, but in order to do so, taxpayers would need to pass a referendum. They did—by an overwhelming 90-plus percent. "From the get-go, the community was really behind building these facilities," says Richardson. "They immediately recognized the value of building these facilities, and it’s become a source of civic pride."
For the University portion of the project, the City obtained the general obligation warrant, which it secured at a competitive rate. The City then used the loan to build the University’s 12 hard courts, 6 indoor courts, and adjoining amenities (such as coaches’ offices and locker rooms for the men’s and women’s tennis teams). Following construction, the City entered into a 20-year lease agreement with the University. The lease covers the debt service used to build the courts, and the City bills the University separately for maintenance and utility costs.
The City broke ground on the Yarbrough Tennis Center June 2006, and the facility opened a swift 13 months later. By all accounts, it’s an incredibly successful complex that’s as attractive as it is functional. Plus, the marriage between the City and the University remains as strong as ever, with both the public and student athletes benefiting from this tennis heaven.
"I couldn’t be more impressed with the tennis center or all of the people who worked so hard to make it happen," says Jenkins. "We would’ve never been able to build a facility of this size or magnitude on the campus; there simply wasn’t enough room. But now we can offer our student athletes world-class tennis facilities—including indoor courts—and they’re just two miles from campus."
The Yarbrough Tennis Center is winning rave reviews outside of Auburn as well. USTA Southern Section Executive Director John Callen toured the facility a few months after it was built and was thoroughly impressed by the layout, park-like setting, and exceptional quality of the courts and surrounding buildings. "It’s just the perfect tennis facility and a testament to what can happen when a city and university work together," Callen says. "Also, it will have a great economic impact on the community. With this facility, Auburn can host large-scale tennis tournaments and attract players from all across the country. This will bring added revenue to local restaurants, hotels and shops. It’s just great for everyone—whether you play tennis or not."
Description: The 34-court Yarbrough Tennis Center is a civic treasure and tangible proof of the strong bond between the City and the University. The Center’s 16 clay courts are owned and operated by the City; the University leases the remaining 18 courts (12 hard and 6 indoor), which are home to its men’s and women’s tennis teams. Anyone can play on the public clay courts for a small fee—$5 for 90 minutes. Yearly memberships include: Individual ($250), Family ($400) and Junior ($200).
The University-leased courts are also open to the public during designated times. "Priority is given to the [University’s] men’s and women’s teams, but when they are not practicing or playing a match, the courts are available for community play," says Jenkins. During these times, the rates are $3 for 90 minutes on a hard court and $7.50 for 90 minutes of indoor play. "I’d say the hard courts and the indoor courts are available to the public about 70 to 80 percent of the time," estimates Jenkins. "This is great because it gives people a choice of surface and allows the city to generate additional revenue. It makes everyone happy."
Speaking of revenues, the Yarbrough Tennis Center has generated more money than projected, thanks to increased participation in adult leagues and kids clinics. Also, opening the indoor facility to the public has been a tremendous boon because people can still play on rainy days or during unbearable heat waves. "When the Center was being built, we weren’t sure what the demand would be," says Richardson. "But now we see just how passionate people are about tennis around here. And we see players of all ages enjoying the game together. It really has grown into a community meeting place."
In addition to reinvigorating community tennis, the new Center has already hosted some key tournaments—including the 2008 SEC Women’s Tennis Championships. The event went so well, in fact, that the Yarborough Tennis Center was chosen as the site for the upcoming 2009 SEC Men’s Tennis Championships. It’s successes such as these that have helped the Center secure a reputation as one of the best tennis complexes in the SEC. It’s also a tribute to the foresight and careful consideration that went into the construction of the facility.
"When the Center was being built, we were very mindful of creating a venue that was more than just functional; it needed to flow well, have top amenities for the players as well as the people watching them," says Jeff Steele, Auburn University’s associate athletic director for facilities and operations. "I think we’ve achieved that, and I think that’s why this facility works for both the community and the University. Plus, we finished construction on time and under budget. How many people can say that?"
Not many. But then again, not many facilities are like the Yarbrough Tennis Center.
Contact Becky Richardson, Director of Parks and Recreation for the City of Auburn, at or see the courts for yourself online at www.auburnalabama.org
Lessons Learned / Words of Wisdom: From Becky Richardson, Director of Parks and Recreation for the City of Auburn: "We get a lot of calls from people who can’t fathom that [the City and the University] have worked together so well to create such a great facility. But what I tell them is that we both had something to gain by building the facility together. It was a mutually beneficial relationship in every sense of the word, and both parties got exactly what they wanted because of that."