ue Pearce has raised eight kids, and in more recent times milked cows working on the family share farm at Parawa in between spending a ridiculous amount of time running the Hindmarsh Valley Tennis Club.
For 20 years she has been the president, secretary and treasurer, plus representative on the Great Southern Tennis Association. Her balmy summer Saturdays have ended hanging her wet tea towel on the rack as she locks the clubrooms built by dedicated club members.
Of course, there have been countless others here over the years since the formation in 1930 who have kept this proud club going – champions the lot of them – but slowly they have become a precious few.
Sue and others can now no longer help the club, and of the few players remaining none are able – or don’t want to – help so it has folded.
For Sue, her challenge has ran much deeper. At Christmas, 2016, she was diagnosed with adrenocortical carcinoma, a rare form of cancer. The chemotherapy has further impacted on her general health.
“I have beaten it; all will be good,” Sue insists, but then adds she has been given an 80 per cent chance of really getting through this trauma.
Sue’s illness puts the plight of a small tennis club into one of life’s perspectives, but nonetheless she feels incredibly sad about its demise. “Like at most clubs these days there are just not the volunteers anymore to keep us going,” Sue said. “No one wants to help.
It is not an unfamiliar story in local sport across the state these days – this generation is not known for stepping up to the proverbial plate and carrying on the traditions of “doing your bit” to ensure their club runs smoothly.
Like those before them, the Association’s current executive led by Chris Scheid as president and its committee has worked diligently and with passion to provide the best competition possible – they deserve credit – but in club land it has long been a struggle with so few left to do so much.
“Last year we had one senior and two junior teams, a total of 16 players plus reserves,” Sue said. “It is not so much finding the players. We have not submitted teams because there is no one to run the club. We have not had quorum at our AGM the last couple of years so there were no official positions like a president or a secretary. Those remaining did the best we could, running on the shoestrings.
“This is a generation and time thing; it’s local sport’s biggest problem. I have eight children in that 20-30 year old bracket, which I would like to think should be taking over, but like most they just have other things to do… families, houses. Tennis takes up a good portion of their time, and these days few people have a weekend.”
The Hindmarsh Valley courts are privately owned by a local farmer and there is no council help. The club pays only a nominal fee, so it’s fair enough it has the responsibility to maintain the courts. Now, with no new volunteers to help club stalwart Graham Dix, who has done an incredible amount of maintenance, weeds are growing through the cracks in the bitumen; everything is over-grown. The paint is peeling off the clubhouse built 30 years ago this November 6 by past club greats like life members Don Millard and Michael O’Rourke.
The walls inside this room, and that of the original clubhouse, hold signs of lifetime passions and dedication to a club, including a life members board featuring 11 names since 1974.
Hindmarsh Valley is certainly not the first tennis club to fold within the region… Delamere, Middleton, Mount Compass Heights, Parawa, Rapid Bay, Victor Harbor High School and Yankalilla have all gone.
Local sporting guru Kevin Curran, a president of the association for 16 years, recalled how incredibly popular tennis was during the mid-80s when there were 64 senior teams of eight competing in seven grades. Now there are 27 senior teams in three grades.
“I remember going to Canada in 1986 and seeing these vast playing fields and courts all bare on a Saturday afternoon, and when I got back I said to people the same thing would happen here,” Kevin said. “They thought I was mad; everyone laughed at me.
“But the thing was, in those days few people here worked on a Saturday afternoon or a Sunday; supermarkets and shops closed at noon. Shopping hours changed and the kids then got part-time jobs at these places or they started going to town to do TAFE or uni courses.
“Things went downhill very quickly from then on, and nowadays no one really wants to do anything. There are those who play who think they are doing the club a favour by just turning up.”
Sue described the apathy as incredibly sad for sport, but understands.
“Lifestyles are now different, but I do feel for those who have supported this club and stuck it out as long as they could,” Sue said. “We had Esme Rose, a life member who was our president in 1988 and at the age of 76 fill-in one day. Last year our oldest player was Brian Odgers (88)… we didn’t have the ladies to make-up the team so he went and played social tennis.
“I hope this is not the end of our club forever, but it is going to be hard kick-starting it again. I’m not sure whether a special group of people is out there.
“We’ve had our great days as a club, like in 2006 when we had nine teams on these little courts. The place was absolutely chockas with people and cars, and now we’re looking down the barrel. You just hope that somehow we get it all back.
“I guess out of all this there are still the memories…”
It was then the sad faces on Sue, Graham and another terrific club member Sandra Bowman brightened; how Sandra seemed to repeatedly break the plastic chairs that had become brittle, the kangaroos jumping past behind the court, while Graham found the snakes at Back Valley when they played there a “bit of a hoot”.
Perhaps most of all, for some time now they’ve missed Sandra’s egg sandwiches for afternoon tea,
“My god this club used to have some great afternoon teas,” Sue said. “Oh, the cream puffs the eclairs and match sticks – everything we shouldn’t have been eating – and then we’d go back out on the court running harder to run off the calories.
“But all this changed too. Players started bringing water melons, and finally dips and chips from the supermarkets.
“We went from lovely family social outings where you made good friends from other teams, and the young kids laughed and played. Now it’s more about winning a game of tennis; it’s not the same social day…. nobody likes kids crying on the sidelines, but I guess that’s what it’s like in all sports now; everything has changed.”
Among Sue’s despair is the fact a great-grandson of one of Hindmarsh Valley’s original players Len Oxenham was going to play for the club this year. We hope young Greg still plays somewhere – tennis needs him.
And maybe all of this is cyclical; the next generation runs all of our clubs to the best of their ability and think the cream puffs and eclairs are cool again. We live in hope – no one more that Sue.