The Baton Rouge Women’s Tennis Association (BRWTA) was founded in 1971 as the result of a suggestion made to Jewel Chubbuck by her sister, Ruth Jones, of Houston. Both Jewel and Ruth played competitive tennis in the senior women’s national tennis circuit. While playing a doubles match one day at a private club in Houston (and losing), Ruth made the kind suggestion to her sister that a competitive women’s tennis organization in Baton Rouge, such as the one she belonged to in Houston, would benefit Jewel’s game. Heeding her advice, Jewel returned to Baton Rouge with the by-laws and rules of the Houston Ladies’ Tennis Association. Assembling a group of her local tennis contemporaries and supporters at Baton Rouge’s City Park to help her launch the concept into reality, Jewel, along with Patty Ruth Wilkinson, Colette Berryhill, Patricia Newman, Kati Smith, Liz Faust, and Lorie Spring, adopted the by-laws to create the BRWTA. The founding group elected Jewel Chubbuck as the organization’s first president in 1971-72, and BRWTA was born on a very cold day in October, 1971 in the City Park Ladies’ Locker Room. By April of 1972, the membership already numbered 125 women proving that the need for such a group existed in Baton Rouge. The continued strength in membership and growing participation today is a testament to the continued need for such an organization in our community.
In 1971-72, the primary mission of BRWTA was not only to provide an opportunity for women to play tennis competitively, but to represent and work for women’s interests in Baton Rouge tennis affairs and activities. This mission continues today as the BRWTA actively participates in the Greater Baton Rouge Community Tennis Association (GBRCTA). As such, our organization has a voice in local decision-making affecting women playing tennis in Baton Rouge and allows us to stay abreast of local issues affecting community tennis and women’s tennis specifically. Another significant mission of the original organization’s membership in 1971 was to teach junior girls about the game to foster a greater influential presence by Baton Rouge youth in competitive junior play.
A fundamental tenet of BRWTA in 1971 was its desire to fill the ranks of its membership from all parts of the community. The organization invited all women who loved tennis to participate, not just women affiliated with private clubs or having certain skill ratings or backgrounds or livelihoods. Any woman who was 18 years old, lived in the area, and was interested in playing tennis was welcomed to join. This foundation of the BRWTA organization still stands strong today.
The original BRWTA group held their tennis matches on Tuesdays and Thursdays at the City Park Tennis Courts. In the 1970’s, the Tuesday matches were reserved for intermediate to advanced players, with novice players getting a chance to play and attend an instructional session by one of the more advanced players on various tennis techniques on Thursdays. The Thursday group presented a grand opportunity to either refresh a rusty old game or to mold a new one just being learned. The original concept has evolved and grown into today’s format of monthly “Fun Tournaments” which can accommodate our ever-growing membership, the modern NTRP ratings system, and two levels of senior level play. Our “Fun Tournaments” now are held on the 2nd Monday of each month hosting women of all age and skill levels to a friendly competition with their peer groups at courts all over the city, followed by a catered lunch, prizes for the 1st and 2nd place winners, and door prizes for the lucky luncheon attendees.
In 1972, Patricia Newman, who was an assistant tennis coach of the LSU women’s tennis team, the assistant dean of women, and later, president of BRWTA 1974-75, suggested that BRWTA sponsor a sanctioned tournament. Therefore, tournaments such as the “Jewel Invitational” which was later known as the “Jewel Classic”, and the “Heart Fund Tournament” were begun and hosted until BRWTA discontinued its role in tournament sponsorship in 2005. By that time, the United States Tennis Association (USTA), established in 1980, had become a strong, cohesive organization that had taken tremendous strides to grow the popularity of tennis across the nation. The success of the USTA in its endeavors resulted in a greater number of competing tournaments being established over the last 30 years for recreational players in Baton Rouge, thereby making it difficult to attract enough players to BRWTA tournaments. Additionally, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita dealt devastating blows to the southern part of our state in 2005, affecting many people and businesses in our community both directly and indirectly, thereby making the decision to discontinue tournament sponsorship an inevitable, although difficult, one for the BRWTA.
Discontinuing the BRWTA role of tournament sponsorship also changed the mission of our organization from one of civic-mindedness to that having a more social focus, although BRWTA’s role to speak for women’s issues in the tennis community has continued today. Through its monthly “Fun Tournaments” and luncheons, the organization has strengthened the network of ladies playing tennis in the area, creating friendships, and providing more opportunities for women to meet and then play tennis beyond the USTA league matches scheduled each week.This provides not only recreation and camaraderie amongst women in our tennis community, but provides a means of helping to facilitate a healthy lifestyle for all its members. Tennis is a lifetime sport that invites women of all ages to play. BRWTA proudly boasts of a number of septuagenarian and octogenarian members who play tennis and the “Fun Tournaments” regularly. BRWTA hopes to continue to fill that need in our community.
With the cessation of tournament sponsorship, the organization has been able to reinvest that time and energy into improving its organizational and business practices, thereby making the group more efficient and productive for all of its members. In 2006, BRWTA made vast improvements to its web site utilizing the in-house expertise of its volunteer membership. These changes allowed members to register and pay on-line for “Fun Tournaments”, stay abreast of upcoming tennis events in the Baton Rouge area, computerize the database of our membership, and maintain a pictorial and digital history of the organization’s activities.