David Schaefer: Worcester Tennis Club’s Regrettable Past
Thursday, October 17, 2013
Why has Holden Towers flourished while WTC declined? Aside from the fact that Holden Towers does have lights, a more important explanation may lie in the reason for the Holden club’s original founding. Holden Towers was established over four decades ago as a result of WTC's firm "no Jews allowed" policy (a policy that was relaxed to my knowledge only in the case of the occasional junior tennis star, and was ended in the '70's only after Holden Towers was founded). Because WTC would not allow them in, a group of Jewish men founded Holden Towers as a nonexclusionary club.
Today, probably no more than 10-15% of Holden Towers's membership is Jewish. But the club has long had an atmospheric distinction that reflects its origins, one that is friendly and welcoming to newcomers, regardless of religion, race, gender, economic class, or level of tennis ability. Unlike at WTC, at Holden Towers you don't have to have a prearranged game to get to play on weekends: the genial longtime pro, Kevin Dunlevy, will always try to set you up in a doubles game when you arrive, sometimes joining in himself to fill out a foursome and equalize the sides. By contrast—and I speak as someone who belonged to WTC for a couple of years in the early 1990’s and was an occasional guest as well, and who knows a number of ex-WTC members—the atmosphere at WTC was Traditionally one of snobbery, hardly welcoming to newcomers. (And Holden Towers, unlike WTC, never closes down for members in order to sponsor outside tournaments like the Worcester County Open: we are a club for tennis players, not for those seeking tennis "status." WTC even used to sell “porch memberships” giving you the right to watch the action on the courts during the regular season. At Holden, you can watch for free!)
I am not writing this column as a recruiting device: HTTC membership is currently at its maximum capacity. Nor should WTC’s current members be held responsible for their club’s past practices. I just believe that the impression that WTC's decline is due to a lack of interest in tennis among the public, rather than its own past attitudes, needed to be corrected. WTC’s past policies reflect a sad history of religious, racial, and ethnic discrimination pervading various local institutions—including golf clubs, realtors, and even Memorial Hospital—that shocked me when I arrived in this city in 1976, having previously lived in the New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia metropolitan areas, where as a Jew I never encountered such practices and thought of them (here I refer to religious, not racial, discrimination) as belonging to America’s pre-World-War II past.
As a tennis fanatic, I will find it sad if Worcester Tennis Club’s beautiful facility has to be closed. I hope that if it shuts down, its remaining members will find other places to pursue the activity. But without spreading mea culpas, I think that we should be honest about Worcester’s past, in the hope of continued improvement. And I would not want to encourage any pessimistic but unjustified forecasts about local interest in the glorious sport of tennis!
David Lewis Schaefer is Professor of Political Science at Holy Cross College in Worcester, where he teaches courses in political philosophy and American political thought. Besides having published numerous books and articles in his field, he has contributed opinion columns on current affairs to such media as the Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, and National Review Online.