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Hitting the backboards


No, that’s not your car starting on a cold morning.

It’s the sound of a tennis racket repeatedly striking a yellow ball against a backboard.

Those mostly wooden green barriers have long been used to help tennis players groove their strokes or grasp the fundamentals of the sport without a partner

Though no one is ready to call Albuquerque a backboard jungle, earlier this year aging tennis partitions at three of the most popular public parks – Montgomery, Arroyo del Oso and Stardust Skies – were removed and substituted by handsome sturdy replacements.

“The previous backboards were rundown and the wood was falling apart in several places,” said Cristin Chavez-Smith, recreation program and facility manager for the city’s Parks & Recreation Department. “We were hearing complaints.”

The changeover wasn’t without miss-hits. City workers removed the old backboards before the new ones had been built. Thus, a brief period resulted when the city was nearly backboard-less.

According to Parks & Rec planner David Flores, the new models are panels made of ¾-inch “marine grade,” reinforced plywood that utilize support frames already standing.

As many tennis players know, wooden backboards are not always available.

“I learned how to play tennis as an 11- or 12-year-old by hitting against a concrete wall,” Dick Johnson, the longtime tennis coach at La Cueva High School, said. “First at Wells Park Community Center. And then later at a wall outside the courts at Rio Grande High School.”

To make repetitive hitting pleasurable, Johnson competed with himself. He’d work out in his head a 16-player Wimbledon draw, then have two players, Pancho Gonzales and Rod Laver, for example, compete according to Johnson’s wall-banging. For a net, he drew a chalk line 3 feet high on the wall.

The list of tennis stars who employed backboards – or walls – in their youth is long, and includes John McEnroe, Venus Williams and Roger Federer. The latter’s wall was actually a garage door. This last piece of information comes from Project Tennis Backboard, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to make backboards available to schools, parks and public facilities. You’ll find the organization on Facebook.

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