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Taking the court in Richmond amid COVID-19

on September 23, 2020

Across Richmond, recreation centers are silent and playgrounds are roped off.

But the tennis courts are alive.

Even amid a pandemic, Garry and Maryn Hurlbut can send rubber balls ricocheting to the other side of the net or watch from the sidelines as their friends and fellow players square up for a singles match.

“We have practice every day of the week,” Garry said in a recent phone interview. “It’s been quite effective in giving people a chance to get out of the house.”

Garry and Maryn Hurlbut, center, and Jon Sutinen, right, with other RTA members at USTA NorCal’s 2016 ACES Awards ceremony.
Credit: Provided by Garry Hurlbut
Garry and Maryn Hurlbut, center, and Jon Sutinen, right, with other RTA members at USTA NorCal’s 2016 ACES Awards ceremony.
Credit: Provided by Garry Hurlbut

The Point Richmond couple runs the Richmond Tennis Association (RTA), one of the few recreational community groups that has remained active as COVID-19 has impacted Calif.

“You’re at least 10 feet apart,” Garry said. “You have to use only your own racket, you bring your own water and you put your initials on a tennis ball … you only pick up the balls that you brought.”

Keeping the practices going is part of a long legacy of community service for the pair, who moved to Richmond in 2013.

Since then, Maryn said they’ve helped improve parks across the city and “cemented our position in the community.”

Jon Sutinen, director of clinics and programs for RTA, said their work and the RTA’s “community spirit” is helping players through the pandemic.

Maryn Hurlbut works with other RTA members to run a session of  Tots Tennis, a program for 3- to 8-year-old children in Richmond.
Credit: Provided by Garry Hurlbut
Maryn Hurlbut works with other RTA members to run a session of Tots Tennis, a program for 3- to 8-year-old children in Richmond.
Credit: Provided by Garry Hurlbut

“People came out and they were so relieved to be able to just go out and hit a tennis ball,” Sutinen said.

The RTA has also kept its World Team Tennis teams going with socially-distanced matches. On Sept. 26 and Sept. 27, all five of the teams posted wins, and a 2019 team is headed to Las Vegas next weekend to participate in a socially-distant National Qualifier after winning the East Bay Championship last year.

The adults aren’t the only ones getting back on the court. Garry is working alongside the Richmond Recreational Department to arrange “virtual tennis” for children who would usually attend RTA programs.

“We’re getting kids on video and we’re actually giving them rackets and telling them, ‘Here, you can do some practice – just don’t break any windows in your house,’” Garry Said.

If Garry’s effort succeeds, the RTA will be one of few groups in Richmond offering a recreational youth program this fall.

“We’re disappointed we couldn’t do much with schools [over the summer],” Garry said. “That’s going to work well as we get back on the courts.”

To our readers: This article was updated on Sept. 30 to reflect that the RTA works with the Richmond Recreational Department to plan youth programs and to include recent results from World Team Tennis matches.

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