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The Best Places to Play : If You're Involved With a Spring Sport, These Facilities Are Where You Want to Be

June 03, 1997|DAVE McKIBBEN

These are the venues that are often taken for granted.

They may not be perfect, but they are certainly rich in character, style or story. If they're not the best facilities available for Orange County high school athletic programs, they're certainly not the worst.

Tennis Woodbridge

The Woodbridge Tennis Center took 14 years to build and Orange County's bankruptcy almost leveled it halfway through the construction process. But now that it's been open for nearly two years, no one seems to be complaining about the wait.

Ever since the $220,000 complex was completed in June 1995, it has been nothing less than a godsend to Woodbridge's tennis program. Woodbridge had always fielded competitive teams, but it never had courts it could call its own and it had never reached the top of the high school tennis world.

Things began to change in the fall of 1995, when the girls' team tied for its first Sea View League title. In the spring of 1996, the boys' team won the school's first Southern Section tennis title. The next fall, the girls won their first league title outright, then won their first section title. This spring, the boys won the Sea View League title and are a match away from a perfect season and a second consecutive Division I title.

Can a new facility really mean that much to a program?

"I don't know if it's a coincidence or not," Woodbridge Coach Joan Willett said. "It certainly hasn't hurt us."

The tennis center was in the original master plans for Woodbridge, which opened in 1981, but the funds and the site never came together until the early 1990s.

In the meantime, Woodbridge's tennis program and Willett led sort of a vagabond existence. The Warriors practiced and played at North Lake Tennis Club, which is part of the Woodbridge Village Tennis Assn. Since residents pay homeowner fees to use the courts, the team was given only five courts to practice on.

"Five courts for a team of 24 doesn't allow for much singles practice," Willett said. "We always had to start practice a half hour later to allow kids time to get to the courts. We very seldom had spectators and we didn't have any storage facilities. We were grateful to North Lake for letting us use the courts, but we were basically running the program out of the back of my car."

Once the school found a site--a vacant lot adjacent to campus--an architectural committee was formed. Members included Willett, vice principal Ken Bailey and Athletic Director Dave Cowen.

"My biggest thing was I liked the idea of a central corridor for spectator viewing where people can sit and watch all eight matches if they wanted to," Willett said. "I think it worked out great."

But Cowen said it almost didn't work out at all. Halfway through the project, the county budget crisis hit.

"We asked ourselves, 'How much is it going to cost us to get rid of it?' " Cowen said. "We figured it would cost us almost the same amount to finish it, so we saw it through."

Willett and other committee members saw to it that the courts were built at such an angle that it would block the east winds and allow players to look up without staring directly into the sun.

The court surface is asphalt with a mixture of three layers of paint and sand.

"It's not a fast court, but it's not so slow that you can't get the ball put away," Willett said.

When the tennis teams aren't using the courts, physical education classes or city recreation programs usually are. The school has a joint-use agreement with the city of Irvine.

Next fall, the tennis center will have a little different look. A canopy is being built to cover the grandstands that sit on Court 1.

"Woodbridge had a quality tennis program, but we had a facility that was less than others in our league," Bailey said. "It didn't make sense.

"In this era where we don't have much money for anything, it's nice that we could build this kind of first-class facility. I'm actually a little pleasantly surprised we were able to do it. We're real proud of our tennis center, and we think our tennis program is as good as you'll find anywhere."

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