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Catholic tennis hits 100


Catholic tennis in South Australia reaches a milestone this year – 100 years since the association was established. Ahead of celebrations on October 23, former president RON GREEN outlines the history of the Catholic Tennis Association.

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Tennis in South Australia began in the 1870s and quickly gained impetus with the founding members of the colony. Courts were established mostly upon private property, one of the early facilities being ‘The Acacias’ where Loreto College stands today.

For the most part the game was initially focused around garden parties in what was a social opportunity for the general community. However, as time passed local clubs were established by church parishes, business houses and some local communities, particularly in regional areas.

In the Catholic community, courts were generally established within the local church precinct and members were drawn from the church community.

Teams were established at the turn of the 20th century and they participated in the Adelaide and suburban association competitions.

The strong desire to promote a general social spirit among young Catholics in Adelaide and to further enhance the interest of tennis led to the Catholic Tennis Association being established in September 1922.

It would seem matters moved rapidly in those early days with the first matches of the association hitting off on November 4 1922.

In later years the clergy played a significant role in getting and keeping the ball rolling within the local parish.

Members of the 1956 executive committee.

Indeed Father Forrest of the Hindmarsh parish presided at the first meeting of the association. Several priests actively promoted the game in their parishes.

The foundation clubs were from Hindmarsh, Ellengowan, Keswick, Thebarton, Goodwood and Prospect. In the ensuing years other clubs came on board as the Adelaide metropolitan area and population expanded. One of the key influences of the association was its long-serving first president George Scantlebury who presided for the initial 17 years. This provided continuity and stability for the emerging association.

As the Adelaide population grew, more courts were laid to accommodate the surge of people playing the game. Certainly this was the case in the pre-World War II period. Post-war, there was a further increase in the numbers playing, no doubt due to the success of Australians playing on the world scene.

Catholic tennis in the post-war era was strong. Players such as Tom Warhurst and Wally Hearne who came through the Catholic system, graduated to the premier competition in the State. Indeed they both played in the prestigious SA Open with some success in the early rounds.

There were 1500 regular players in the early 60s. At this stage the need for a headquarters venue was identified, as was the need to provide more opportunities for junior players.

The current headquarters comprising six hard and six lawn courts plus a clubhouse was established in the late 1960s with a new clubhouse built in 1979. This centre provided a base for tournaments and allowed the association to enter into the State’s premier competition.

Many Catholic juniors were then able to transition to top competition as a result. It was the starting point for John Fitzgerald, Helen McArthur and Sharon Thomson. Other members, John James and Neil Higgins were both prominent in the team and successful in winning the Australian Junior Boys Doubles.

Numbers were high and they peaked around the mid-60s. The tyranny of distance and changes to working hours began to impact on the availability of players. For instance travelling from one end of the city to the other on a Saturday was a long trip and this, coupled with the time span for a match of approximately six hours, caused some organisational difficulties. Accordingly, some clubs decided to relocate to local district competitions.

In the early 60s a match was usually interspersed with a break for afternoon tea which the female players provided in addition to playing themselves. This was a quaint and socially-enjoyed aspect of the competition and certainly provided the basis for many relationships. However by the end of the 60s this activity was abandoned because of time constraints.

Furthermore, the need for the expansion of school facilities meant that court space availability became increasingly difficult.

While the competitions ensued, more and more participants opted to play on weeknights rather than the Saturday afternoon slot.

An important aspect of the association was its commitment to juniors. For many years it convened the Catholic Schools competition as well as conducting annual tournaments. A highlight of the junior program was the introduction of an annual exchange for both boys and girls with the Victorian Catholic Association. This successful competition, which ran for many years, provided a further opportunity for career development for many juniors.

As we log up our centenary year, just as in our society, we have witnessed considerable changes. Nevertheless the association lives on, albeit at a smaller participation level. Its strength these days lies with night tennis at headquarters and the stunning lawn club, Xavier, in providing competitive tennis for all abilities, in particular in their very successful midweek ladies competition.

A celebration at the West Beach headquarters is planned for Sunday October 23 from 2pm. This day will see a display of memorabilia from over the years.

“We are hopeful as many older members as possible can attend the event,” said current president Craig Glennon.

For more information on the event contact Peter Nelligan on 0405720795 or register your interest via email to


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