by Dan Feldman, Published August 20, 2012
Claudia Wasik attended the Mid-American women’s tennis tournament, hosted by Eastern Michigan, in 2003. Though the Eagles performed well—finishing second to top-seeded Marshall—she became uneasy as she watched the matches at Chippewa Club in Ypsilanti.
“I just felt that couldn’t go on,” Wasik said. “… It was a travesty that Eastern Michigan didn’t have any tennis courts on campus.”
So, Wasik contributed a leadership gift that, with Lucy Parker’s supporting gift, has gone toward building new tennis courts on Eastern Michigan’s campus. The six courts, which will sit north of the EMU Indoor Practice Facility, are set to open for the women’s tennis team’s fall practices and will be called the Claudia Wasik Tennis Complex.
“I just felt this was something I had to do,” Wasik said.
Wasik (BS62, MS66) and Parker (BS59, MS66), both Eastern Michigan graduates and former tennis coaches at the school, fondly remember the days when courts existed on campus.
“People, between classes, after classes, they would stop, watch matches, go on,” said Wasik, an E-Club Hall of Famer and two-time MAC Coach of the Year. “It just generated an awful lot of enthusiasm when you had some student body cheering for you. It really gave the players a lift.”
If all goes to plan, that environment will return with the new courts and their spectator seating.
“I was very grateful,” Eastern Michigan women’s tennis coach Ryan Ray said. “Claudia and Lucy, they’re the pioneers of the program.”
Not only are Wasik and Parker proud to help the varsity tennis team, they hope the new courts will raise the profile of tennis, a sport they still hold dear. Parker remembers when on-campus courts had coin boxes that students could feed to keep the lights on and play at night.
“We would take the quarters and replace the nets,” Parker said.
Eventually, those courts were demolished to create parking lots and new facilities. Though the transition was understandable, and maybe even necessary, to Wasik and Parker, that didn’t make it easy for them.
“It saddened me greatly,” said Parker, who served as associate athletic director for women’s athletics from 1977-1991. “I taught tennis almost all my life. And it was gone.”
Ideally to Wasik and Parker, tennis will become so popular again among students and faculty that there will eventually be support to add on-campus courts for recreational use.
But for now, the new courts should be a boon to the varsity team.
“It’s vital for every Division I program to have a facility to call their own,” Ray said. “It’s really going to help with recruiting and the overall atmosphere of the program.”
The Mid-American Conference tournament will soon stop rotating equally between the league’s schools with tennis teams. After the current rotation completes, the regular-season champion of the previous year will host the post-season tournament. With its new courts, Eastern Michigan is better equipped to attract the student-athletes capable of bringing the even back to Ypsilanti.
“The players know: If you don’t have a facility, there’s many that do,” Ray said. “…Nothing’s like having the campus atmosphere.”
Because the Eagles will still play their home matches at the Chippewa Club when the weather pushes them indoors, it’s unclear when the new tennis complex will host its first match.
Most years, Wasik, who spends her winters in Florida, would not be in Michigan for the start of the spring tennis season. But this year, Eastern Michigan’s first outdoor match will be held at the courts named in her honor –certainly a reason to juggle travel plans.
“I would certainly make an attempt to be there,” Wasik said.
Whether or not she’s in attendance for that match, nobody would argue: She was there for Eastern Michigan and its tennis team.