Old Towne residents Doug and Susie Willits may be the only folks around with fond memories of the dusty old Chapman University tennis courts. The couple met for the first time as Chapman students taking a tennis class on the courts on the northeast corner of then Chapman College.
“We were introduced by a mutual friend who was in the class,” Susie recalls. “I could beat Doug initially, but that didn’t last long. He ended up playing on the Chapman tennis team for three years and was captain his senior year in 1972. But that class was the beginning of a love of tennis for both of us—as well as our nearly five decades of ‘mutual appreciation’ of each other.”
Those four old clay courts where “love”—for the Willits, at least—sometimes meant something much more than zero, are now gone. They were torn down to make way for construction of the gleaming new Keck Center for Science and Technology. Tennis at Chapman has moved upscale—and westward—to the state-of-the-art $6 million Erin J. Lastinger Tennis Center on the corner of Palm Avenue and Cypress Street.
The university would also like it to be known that there are public hours when members of the community can enjoy playing in the spiffy new facility.
Says Will Marino, head coach of the Chapman men’s and women’s tennis teams, “Check our website (www.chapmanathletics.com/recreation/Open_Hours), because hours can change from semester to semester. The summer public hours are Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 8:30 am to 12:30 pm.” (Those wishing to use the Tennis Center must also fill out and submit an online liability waiver form, which is linked on that web page.)
Marino adds that the new center, which opened in fall 2017, has already been a boon to the burgeoning Chapman tennis program. Chapman tennis had enjoyed glory days in the past. Back in the 1980s, the Panther men’s team won three NCAA Division II national titles before the university transitioned to Division III in 1994. Coached by Marino since the 2000 season, the men were ranked as high as No. 22 in the nation in 2005, and the women consistently were ranked in the top 25 from 2007 to 2014, climbing as high as No. 12 in 2010.
However, the teams lost players during the two years without a campus facility, when the old courts were demolished and before the new Tennis Center opened. The women’s last winning season was 2014, and for the men, it was 2015.
“It was hard to get over the hump,” says Marino. “Chapman was at a disadvantage in recruiting the best high school tennis players from around the nation. They would love what they saw when they looked at Chapman academics or its other buildings and facilities, but it was pretty clear that they were turned off by our lack of a great tennis center.”
Now, with the Lastinger Tennis Center, Chapman will be able to impress many more of those top players, Marino says. “The new facility boasts seven courts—including a championship court—with lighting for evening play, two locker rooms, a team room and coaches’ offices. Covered seating between the two rows of courts gives friends and fans a shaded place to watch the matches.”
Marino believes Chapman’s new Tennis Center ranks above or at least alongside any other peer university facility in the nation.
Doug Willits agrees. “The new Lastinger Tennis Center is a great addition, not only to Chapman, but to the community as well. It’s wonderful to have these beautiful courts to which the public has access. We hope the community enjoys going to matches and playing on these magnificent courts and appreciates what this complex has done to add to the beauty of Old Towne.
“After all, you never know where playing tennis might lead,” he says. “Forty-nine years, two children—both Chapman grads—and six grandchildren later, Susie and I continue to play tennis and support all things Chapman!”