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January 27, 2015 11:17 AM

JohnnyParkesRRJohnny Parkes. 28, was a standout performer for the Lobos from 2005-2009.  During his time at UNM  Parkes posted the all-time career singles record of 97-42.  He helped the Lobos win the Mountain West Chmpionships in 2008 and 2009 and was a four-time Academic All-Conference honoree. In 2010, Parkes helped to start the successful LPTA training program for promising junior players, held at the Linda Estes Tennis Center.  After living mostly in his native England, he recently returned to become the tennis director at the Club Rio Rancho, formerly Chamisa Hills Country Club.

When did you arrive back to the U.S.?

I returned to New Mexico on December 22 of last year.  I had last seen the States in May 2012.  I would have come back sooner but I had an immigration problem that did not permit me to return to the States.

Seems to me you could have gone anywhere after you cleared up that problem.

Well, I wanted to live in New Mexico, which is where I met my wife, Rachael Gonzales.  Rachael and I got married July 27, 2013, in England, and she was keen on returning here as well. And she has. She’s a bilingual third-grade teacher at Reginald Chavez Elementary School, in the South Valley.

What were you doing abroad?  

A lot of the time I was working out of the Gosling Tennis Center, north of London, coaching juniors. I also obtained a master’s degree in sports management from the University of East London.  During much of 2014, I worked with young professional players who were competing in ITF futures events. I traveled to tournaments in Turkey Thailand, Portugal, Spain and Israel.

You got to see a lot of the world.

Not always safely. In Elat, Israel, air sirens were sounded when Syria launched rockets that landed not very far away. In Thailand, we had to contend with political riots.    

And now your goal is to build up junior tennis in the Albuquerque area?

That’s right. I began researching things last May.  I wanted six courts and floodlights and a place that was already there.  That’s when I found out about Chamisa Hills.  The previous owner of that club there had let things go. The grass hadn’t been watered in some time and the courts were in disrepair.

How did things change there?

New owners came in and the club was sold last spring, I discovered. The new owners, Jhett Browne and Bob Gallagher, I learned, had subsequently begun regenerating the grass and resurfacing the tennis courts. The courts are now painted Australia Open blue. They changed the name to Club Rio Rancho. Jhett owns two Farmers Market stores in Albuquerque and Bob is the former president of the New Mexico Oil & Gas Association.

JohnnyParkes_(2)Did you begin communicating with Browne and Gallagher at that time?

Yes, I emailed Jhett, who is the principal owner. He wrote back saying I sounded exactly like the person they were interested in talking to.

When did you actually see the club for the first time?

Right around Christmas.  The club still needs some work, but it has tremendous potential.  It has a few hundred members but sadly the tennis memberships were down to about 10.  Fred Abbott had tried his best there, but it wasn’t working, for whatever reasons.  I started at the club in early January. Within a week or so we had 10 new tennis memberships.

For a long time I heard that Chamisa Hills was going to close for good.

That’s true. The community of Rio Rancho wanted to save it and voted to save it.  Jhett and Bob live on the golf courses and if the club closed who knew what would happen to that land.  To Jhett and Bob, Club Rio Rancho won’t just be a business; it will be a place to go.  I found there is unbelievable support in the community for this to happen.

What does an individual membership in the club cost?  

Eighty dollars per month for a single adult.  A family membership is $150 and a junior membership is $30. We can do seasonal memberships as well.  There are no initiation fees.  

Seems to me the club should have more junior members.  

Yes.  They’re out there, believe me.  This community is a sleeping giant. Rio Rancho has two high schools, four middle schools and about 10 elementary schools.  The community has almost 100,000 people. It’s the second largest city in New Mexico. The club is at the epicenter of all of this.

What else does the Club Rio Rancho have besides golf, tennis and swimming?

It has three really great eating places.  Bobby G’s, Jhett’s Fine Dining and the Triple Play Bar.

Are you going to be running the tennis program alone?

No, Anna Kuuttila and Eric Hagenimana from the Lobo Club are going to be helping me out.  

What are your plans for attracting more people, more members?  

I want kids and their parents to go play at the same time. Our goal is to create a family environment.  I plan to go to elementary schools in Rio Rancho and show them 10-and-under tennis.  I want to start free field trips to the Club Rio Rancho.  Having a schools program is very important to me.  We want the club to be a magnet for young people.   

You seem somehow different from when I talked to you last, which was about four years ago.  Have you changed?  

For one, I became a Roman Catholic. I was baptized and confirmed. Rachael and I were married at St. Marie’s Catholic Church in Southport, which is my hometown.  

How has that influenced you?

I feel I tend to look at the bigger picture.  I am more respectful; I feel more empowered.  It’s important for me to stick to ethics and have a moral code.  I believe in something larger than myself.  What I want to do is to help people. And I am doing that right now.  

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