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New tennis museum rounds up Alamance County tennis history, memories

By Bob Sutton

Special to The Alamance News

Many of the players, coaches, and personalities who created special moments in Alamance County tennis for decades gathered Saturday for the unveiling of a museum to document that history.

“It took about three years to get it together,” recalled John Walton, former president of the Alamance Junior Tennis Foundation (AJTF) and retired director of the Burlington Tennis Center. “It has been a fun thing for me. I got to call people I remember playing tennis with and just catch up with them.”

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More of that was going on during the opening ceremony, with a gathering of about 200 people. Others from the public checked out the museum later in the day. The museum is housed in the same building that’s home to the North Carolina Softball Hall of Fame at Burlington City Park off Overbrook Drive.

Walton, a 1966 Williams graduate and a past college women’s tennis coach at Elon, added to his legacy by tracking down the information and photos that are part of the museum.

“It has been his project,” said Stacey Higgins, the AJTF treasurer and club manager at Olde Forest Racquet Club in Elon.

Stacey Higgins and John Walter during the tennis museum opening on Saturday, August 26, 2023.

To Jag Gowda, who oversees tennis at Olde Forest Racquet Club and serves as AJTF president, he’s most pleased with how the museum in many ways honors Walton’s widespread contributions to tennis.

“Honoring him with the John Walton Wing is great for all the things he has done,” Gowda said.

Former Burlington tennis director John Walton, also a former tennis coach at Elon University, in the wing of the tennis museum named for him.

It’s also a tribute to AJTF board members who have funded many tennis endeavors throughout the county.

Walton and Higgins said the intent behind the museum is to recognize players, coaches, school teams, donors, and facilities. Betsy Hooper of the AJTF board was instrumental in putting together the project.

There are four main categories: Champions and Achievers, Coaches Corner, Leaders and Legends, Facilities and History.

Biographies and photos are spread across the two-room shrine. There are tennis artifacts, newspaper clippings, and other items donated from those with tennis connections.

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For instance, former Williams coach Ron Lee donated his old scorebooks. So for someone playing for or against the Bulldogs as far back as the 1970s, results of those matches are available by thumbing through those scorebooks at the museum.

Museum visitors will be reminded of tennis successes involving every high school in the county (minus just-opened Southeast Alamance).

The facilities section focuses on Burlington Tennis Center, Olde Forest Racquet Club, Alamance Country Club, and Elon University, though the impact of the AJTF on school facilities is recognized.

To Tony DeCandia, who worked at Olde Forest Racquet Club in the late 1990s and recently returned there to assist Gowda, having so many people who were instrumental in tennis across several decades attend Saturday’s function made for a special occasion.

“It was like a reunion,” DeCandia said. “There were laughs, tears. People who hadn’t seen each other in 20, 30 years.”

Gowda, who has been at Olde Forest Racquet Club for 34 years, agreed. “The reminiscing, that was so nice,” he said.

The opening ceremony included remarks from Burlington city officials and from former Burlington resident Kelly Key Gaines, who’s executive director of the U.S. Tennis Association-North Carolina.

The museum will be open by appointment through the Burlington Recreation and Parks Department or the Burlington Tennis Center and for special events. AJTF board members can also arrange for tours.

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