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CP: Tennis Central in ABQ

March 1, 2012 06:48 PM


Albuquerque’s Jerry Cline Tennis Complex headquarters is poised to get a lot better.  


It’s about time. 


That’s what tennis players across the Southwest are saying.


For almost 30 years, the Jerry Cline Tennis Center has anchored a grassy rectangle in Albuquerque’s midsection. The Jerry Cline, which provides a home for lessons, leagues, tournaments and/or just fun play, finally is getting a sorely needed addition.




In truth, there are two tiny restrooms inside the center’s temporary portable office. But neither has a shower, unless you count the sinks.


On March 27, ground is tentatively scheduled to be broken at the north end of the center for a $3 million, 7,000-square foot building. The new edifice will be approximately where the current temporary office used to sit.   


During the last six years, the Jerry Cline has won USTA awards for its offerings and its ability to serve many needs within the tennis community. An estimated 140,000 tennis players of all ages and skill sets pass through the courts annually.  


Surprisingly, the Jerry Cline has never had a legitimate locker room. That is going to change, upon completion of the new building, in early 2013.


Not only will the Jerry Cline Tennis Center eventually look different, it will receive a new name—the Jerry Cline Recreation and Tennis Center


Fred Hultberg, the city of Albuquerque’s section head for tennis, says the building will also be available as a community nexus for the neighborhoods that adjoin the park.


Hultberg"We’ll have two locker rooms and two showers in each locker room and lots and lots of lockers," Hultberg told Counterpuncher.  "That’s the biggest thing that people who play here wanted—somewhere nice to change clothes and clean up."


The Jerry Cline hosts tournaments 26 weekends of the year. Some of those events are staggeringly large.  Two years ago, the Cline rolled out the welcome mat for the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference’s tennis championships. Fourteen college teams in all, both men and women, competed. The lines to get into tennis gear, says Hultberg, went out the door of the temporary office. Storerooms in the office were turned into makeshift changing rooms.


"It was ridiculous," Hultberg says. "We had four people at once inside each of the two small bathrooms."


The Cline has come a long way from the time it opened, in 1984.  It replaced Beverly Park, a beloved row of city courts diagonally across Interstate 40. The Beverly had stood since the late 1950s, a magnet in the midst of a growth-crazy city. Numerous Albuquerqueans who learned to play at the Beverly remain active in the game. Chris Gibbon, a senior vice president for New Mexico Bank and Trust, is one. 


"When the Beverly disappeared, I went to the Complex" (the Albuquerque Tennis Complex, which, starting in the 1960s had stood east of what is now Isotopes Park).  The Complex, in later years, had men’s and women’s rooms with showers. On occasion, homeless people and even a cross-dresser hung out in those showers. "One guy lived in his car in the parking lot."



The main problem with the Complex, however, was the courts, which constantly needed resurfacing due to chronic erosion issues.  


When bulldozers flattened the Complex six years ago to make room for a city-run motocross park, Gibbon, a 4.0 USTA league competitor, started going to the Jerry Cline.


"It’s a true community tennis center," Gibbon says. "When I’m there I see all sorts of people, young children in the summer, senior citizens, players in wheelchairs.  In my opinion, showers and locker rooms will complete the place. Those amenities will make Jerry Cline even more user-friendly."


Jerry Cline sign  011The Jerry Cline was named for an Albuquerque policeman killed in the line of duty in 1983. Cline was not a tennis player, but he had grown up near the area that now bears his name. Ironically, Counterpuncher interviewed Cline five years before he died. That story was about the radio call that law enforcement people everywhere hate to get: domestic disputes. Cline was answering such a call the night he was shot to death.  


In its early days, the office for the Jerry Cline Tennis Center was known to as "the shack."


"The shack was cold in winter and hot in summer," remembers Ann Von Worley who arranged tennis programs at Jerry Cline during the 1980s. "The shack was so small. If three people were in it, there was no room for anyone else." Bob Curtis, who has taught tennis at Jerry Cline since the late 1980s, remembers something else about being inside the shack: the many mouse droppings.


Incredibly Loud, Extremely Close


The original nets at the Jerry Cline were steel—chainlink, really—and there were no windscreens.  Landscaping was minimal around what then were 12 courts.  Only three of those courts had lights and frequently the lights came on and stayed on all night.  There was no buffer wall between the courts and Interstate 40.


"It was really, really noisy," Von Worley recalls.


When you played on the northernmost courts, it was not unusual for a hard-hit tennis ball to carom off the top of a steel net and then sail over a court’s back fence. Counterpuncher does not remember any tennis balls bouncing into the whizzing traffic on the Interstate 40, but it could have happened. Suffice is to say, no one promoted searching for such errant shots.


When the Complex, which like the Beverly had its share of faithful adherents, died,  Jerry Cline became Tennis Central for Albuquerque.



erry Cline today has 18 courts, 13 of which are lighted. All have windscreens. A high buffer wall now runs along the north end and landscaping brings a nice touches to much of the grounds.  


The shack had been replaced by a 4,000 square foot temporary building, which was originally scheduled to be there for only two and half years, according to Hultberg. Lack of funding has stretched that into five years.


Player_JCThe bulk of the money for the new building comes from Albuquerque’s general obligation bonds, according to Richard Zita, project manager for the city’s municipal development.  State funds also are being used as is money from Albuquerque’s Parks & Recreation Department.


"It’s going to be a cool building," Zita, a landscape architect, says.


The temporary building at the Jerry Cline once served as an interim library while the Erna Ferguson Public Library was being remodeled. When the new Erna Ferguson opened, the temporary structure was carted off to McKinley Middle School, where the city discovered it lying empty and hauled it over to Louisiana and Constitution Northeast.   


The temporary building is really four trailers hinged together.  Last fall, the structure was moved from the north end Jerry Cline to south end, so the architect and builder could better determine the space for the new building. When that happened, Hultberg and others in the Cline offices worked for a month outdoors on picnic tables.


The Jerry Cline office is not merely about tennis. The five people employed there handle youth softball, Little League, YAFL, youth soccer, adult soccer, kickball, rugby, and Ultimate Frisbee and of course a wide array of tennis events and activities.


Parking at a Premium


CHAMPS_14_UnderADV_TCADoubleTroubleAs the Cline expanded, and drew more use, an uneasiness developed between the people who ran the courts and the surrounding neighborhood. Things grew especially tense when New Mexico High School Tennis Championship landed there, in 2006.


"Women had to wait forever to use our two toilets," Hultberg says. "It was a mess."


Parking was also a headache and the complaints rolled in. Buses came from across the state and cars of parents parked along Constitution and into the side streets that run south. Area residents voiced their disapproval. 

Hultberg has since met frequently with the officers of the Jerry Cline Park Neighborhood Association and the South Winrock Neighborhood Association, which overlap border the park.


Hultberg believes concerns about the parking problem have been alleviated. When the new building is installed, the Jerry Cline will gain a handful of parking spaces as well as a circular turnaround in the northernmost parking area.   

"Really, only the first two days of the state tournament are when it is real busy and people have to park on neighboring side streets," says Hultberg. "The other two days, it’s a lot less congested."


Expect additional congestion this May during  the state high school tournament. "With the construction of the new building going on and with the temporary building taking up space,  we’ll have some parking problems," Hultberg says. "But that will end this year." 


Initially, the new building was supposed to be two stories tall and some neighbors did not like that. Nor did some relish the idea of showers being installed. The new building will only be one story—original funding dried up—and will have a big community room that neighborhood groups can use for meetings or activities such aerobics. Showers will be available to the neighborhood residents as well.


Hultberg says there is little vandalism and crime in the park and neighbors apparently are now satisfied with how things have turned out.  


"I don’t see a problem getting along," Ron Goldsmith, vice president of the Jerry Cline Park Neighborhood Association, says.  "I am personally glad we have the courts. I think the building is going to be great.  Fred is wonderful to work with and his staff is really helpful and friendly.  We’re delighted that construction is about to happen."


"People like it that nobody uses these courts except for tennis," says Hultberg. Indeed, in days of yore it was not uncommon to see skateboarders and roller bladders on some of the courts.


"In good weather, our courts are packed, Monday through Thursday," Hultberg says.

Reservations are taken two days ahead of time. Drop-in tennis, which the late Dick Gorman introduced to the Jerry Cline in the 1980s, remains popular. 


JerryCline_RatesExcept for lessons, the Cline did not charge people to play. That changed when the city’s tennis headquarters moved over from the Complex, in 2006. Even now the court fee for two hours is astonishingly low: $2 for adults, $1.50 for seniors and $1 for kids under 18.


"No one bitches about our prices," Hultberg says.   


"You really cannot beat it," Chris Gibbon says.  Though Gibbon these days plays mostly out of  Tanoan Country Club, he still likes to go to the Jerry Cline Park for an occasional lunch hour workout.  


"It’s the centerpiece for tennis in this whole state," Gibbon says. "Bob (Curtis) and Curtis (Krzykowski) do a great job.  They engage people.  They run a ton of people through there—from the Far Northeast Heights to the West Side. The new building will make the place so much better."


 The new building is expected to be finished in time for the state high school championships, in 2013. 


The old building? It’s not clear where its four pieces will wind up. Perhaps on the West Side, but maybe not. "It all depends on timing," says Christy Diaz of Albuquerque’s Parks and Rec.  


One thing is certain. The old building won’t go anywhere until the new building is up and running, showers and all.






TobySmith_FHCOUNTERPUNCHER is an online exclusive series written by former Albuquerque Journal reporter and USTA Southwest Marketing Committee member Toby Smith. Smith has been writing on tennis for more than 40 years. 


To reach Toby, contact tobysmith68@gmail.com or             505-681-0667      .  


View past Counterpuncher stories HERE.