Out of this World: USTA Clay Court Championships a Net Gain for Rocket City

Celebrations surrounding the 50th anniversary of the July 20, 1969 moon landing are in full stride in Huntsville.

Plans to honor man’s walk on the lunar surface this year have included a Guinness world record-setting attempt for simultaneous rocket launches, a celebration car show, an Apollo Homecoming Dinner and something city residents did when Huntsville-built rockets took men to the moon — dancing in the streets at the Courthouse Square.

Simultaneously, and in a more Earthly endeavor, some 350 top players from around the country are chasing USTA Girls 16-and-under National Clay Court Championships at the Athletic Club Alabama.

Play began last weekend and was scheduled to conclude this Saturday. Matches are at the ACA on Leeman Ferry Road and the city-operated Huntsville Tennis Center at John Hunt Park.

“One thing that struck me was when I drove through the parking lot at Athletic Club Alabama, I counted license plates from 18 different states – from Nevada to North Dakota,” said Mark McCarter, convention sales manager with the Huntsville-Madison County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

McCarter said tournament estimates for city coffers is $600,000.

But, “frankly,” he said. “I feel it’ll be a lot larger than that. We’ve got 350 players and only two are from Alabama.”

The tournament had been at a Memphis club but, when it pulled out, bids were taken for a host city and Huntsville won over seven other finalists.

Local professional and Huntsville native Eddie Jacques, a former U18 National Clay Court Champion and All-Southeastern Conference player at Georgia, and Kelly Haynes, general manager at ACA, approached city officials to see if there was support for the event.

There was.

“It was kind of last minute and they reached out to see what help we could provide,” McCarter said.

The city worked with the pair to help with lodging taxes, meals and use of the Huntsville Tennis Center.

“It’s a really good partnership with the city of Huntsville,” he said.

And there have been chances to showcase the Rocket City.

One of the competitors held a Sweet 16 birthday party at a local establishment and the 20 tournament referees have hit a different eatery every night – two examples McCarter said of the tournament being a “great event to show off Huntsville to those who have never been here.”

There’s also the space angle.

“A cool thing was one of the girls told her mom no matter when she lost, she wanted to stay all the way to the end,” McCarter said. “That was because her two brothers were coming to Huntsville to attend Space Camp.”