Tennis league celebrates one year of play

The Philadelphia Liberty Tennis Association, the city’s LGBT tennis league, will host its annual membership meeting this weekend to elect its new board and review its first year in operation, which was sprinkled with successes.

PLTA formed in January 2008 as an outlet for LGBT and ally tennis aficionados and amateurs. The organization is a member of the Gay & Lesbian Tennis Alliance, which oversees about 40 international LGBT tennis clubs.

Within its first year, the group has recruited 77 members, who have played a combined 5,000 games.

PLTA communications director Rick Bluhm said the local LGBT community has been very responsive to the club.

“There seems to be a great interest in the Philadelphia area for tennis,” Bluhm said. “Whenever we’ve been out at a recruiting table, people walk by and go, ‘Oh my gosh, tennis!’ There’s a love of this sport in the city.”

Bluhm said the PLTA had 27 players join at its first membership meeting in April and, since then, about 10 new members have signed up each month during both the summer and winter seasons.

Eric Wachter, PLTA president, said the rapid increase in membership exceeded his initial expectations for the league.

“We began our first year thinking that 30 members would allow us to be sustainable after one year,” Wachter said. “To have nearly 80 dues-paying members after our inaugural season illustrates that the LGBT community in Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley can support a prosperous tennis association.”

The PLTA members run the gamut in age, from 18-50s; location, with members drawing from Philadelphia, the surrounding suburbs and New Jersey; and experience.

Bluhm said the association is populated mostly by gay men, but several gay women and a heterosexual ally also play.

The PLTA uses the standards set forth by the GLTA to determine which ranking a player should be given: A, B, C or D, depending on experience and skill level. Each classification of players then plays against one another so the competitions are evenly matched.

Members can take part in formalized league play in either doubles or singles match-ups, which are held from 2-6 p.m. Saturdays and 9-11 a.m. Sundays, or can participate in non-competitive social play with other members during these hours.

Participants can also search through member profiles and request to play a match against another player in what the association refers to as “ladder” play, which can be scheduled on the members’ own time.

Wachter said players also get together for social outings, which helps to strengthen the connections among them and solidify the league.

“Membership provides a way for our group to enjoy tennis and make some friends in a sport that isn’t as conducive to making friends as most team sports are,” he said. PLTA organizers keep track of the results of each match and post the rankings of their members on the league Web site throughout the season. The league holds matches in the summer at FDR Park in South Philly and at indoor locations throughout the winter.

Bluhm said one advantage of playing in the PLTA is that the organization doesn’t require players to participate every weekend, allowing them the freedom to get as involved as their schedules allow.

“Unlike softball, where you usually have to play every weekend on a team, there’s a lot of flexibility with tennis and, the way we have it set up, you’re encouraged to play every weekend, and some people even play twice, but it’s also OK if you skip a weekend here and there.”

All members are encouraged to attend the league’s membership meeting, which will be held at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow at Tavern on Camac, 243 S. Camac St., to meet and greet fellow players and discuss the group’s progress. A major component of that progress will be the election of the league’s new board, which will be announced during the meeting.

Bluhm said the league is always on the lookout for new members and will have a recruiting station at this year’s Equality Forum, OutFest and Pride.

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Jen Colletta can be reached at [email protected].