Addition to South Sioux Tennis Center meets need for courts

Addition to South Sioux Tennis Center meets need for courts

SOUTH SIOUX CITY — A South Sioux City tennis center is serving up more court space after unveiling a new $1.4 million addition last month.

First Serve Tennis Center, 1500 Riverview Drive, opened in January 2020 with a 25,300-square-foot facility. Tremendous growth in youth tennis clinics, private lessons and league play, as well as rising local interest in the sport of pickleball, necessitated a second 26,400-foot building, which connects to the first building. Last February, First Serve was averaging 14 hours of usage per court per day. 

“We were literally bursting at the seams. The demand for courts, the demand for playing time, the demand for clinics was exceeding the supply, which is a wonderful problem to have,” said Wes Michaelson, president of the Siouxland Tennis Association. “The board sat down and said, it’s time to grow, so we created a plan and began fundraising.” 

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Wes Michaelson, Siouxland Tennis Association president, left, and Scott Bieber, First Serve Tennis Center general manager, are shown Tuesday o…

The addition, as well as outdoor tennis/pickleball courts, which are slated to open in the fall, were awarded a $700,000 shovel-ready grant from the Nebraska Department of Economic Development. The rest of the money for the addition was funded by donations. 

The new addition, which opened to the public on Jan. 15, has three tennis courts with permanent overlaid lines for 12 pickleball courts. Like the first building, the courts in the addition are composed of cushioned surface designed to minimize shock and stress on the body’s joints. 

“They were raving about the surface and the lighting,” Michaelson said of members of the Siouxland Pickleball Association. “It’s their favorite surface for bouncing. They love the texture, the grip, the feel, everything about this surface.”

The First Serve Tennis Center is shown Tuesday in South Sioux City. The indoor tennis facility recently opened an addition to their building, …

Even though pickleball is the fastest-growing sport in America, Scott Bieber, First Serve’s general manager, said the number of pickleball players is still “dwarfed” by the number of tennis players. Pickleball, which is played with a flat paddle rather than a stringed racket, combines tennis, badminton and ping pong. 

“I think the fact that we have both (tennis and pickleball) here, they can complement each other,” Bieber said.

Bieber explained that underneath the actual tennis or pickleball surface is a concrete floor, which he said is almost standard for indoor and outdoor courts. He said kids’ joints can handle concrete, but he said older people find it more challenging to play on. 

“Our surface is actually a combination of nine different layers. Three of those layers are cushioning layers,” Bieber explained. “To a tennis purist, it feels like asphalt, even though you’re playing on what is actually a concrete floor.”

First Serve Tennis Center addition

Shari Erlemeier hits the ball while playing pickleball Tuesday at First Serve Tennis Center in South Sioux City. The indoor tennis facility recently opened an addition to their building, adding three more tennis courts that are also striped for pickleball and slightly more than doubling the center’s square footage.

Michaelson said people who used to have aching knees and ankles the day after playing tennis, immediately notice the benefits of playing on a cushioned surface. 

“The don’t have that pain the day after on this surface,” he said. “It comes down to joint longevity, and we’ve got it.” 

Sioux City was a ‘tennis desert’

Mary Howard, right, hits the ball while playing pickleball with Mary Halverson against Shari Erlemeier, left, and Roxanne Gould Tuesday at Fir…

First Serve was chosen as the United States Professional Tennis Association’s Missouri Valley Facility of the Year in September 2021, beating out similar tennis centers in Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma. 

The idea for an all-season, indoor tennis center was born at a surprise birthday party for local tennis player Roger Bohnenkamp. Before First Serve opened, Bieber described Sioux City as “sort of a tennis desert.”

“The only indoor facility was a private facility. Tennis wasn’t their emphasis at all. So tennis was an after thought,” he said.

Construction of the 25,300-square-foot facility began in May 2019. The cost of that initial building was also $1.4 million. It features three indoor courts, a reception area, pro-shop and mezzanine in a climate-controlled atmosphere. 

Bieber said tennis isn’t a game that’s easy to learn on your own. He also said tennis is easier to learn in childhood than in adulthood.

First Serve uses a progression system to teach beginners. Young children start out on smaller courts and use balls that don’t bounce as high or fast, according to Bieber. He said the majority of First Serve’s travel team, which is mostly composed of high schoolers and some middle school students, first picked up a tennis racket at the facility.

Danny Graves, pro shop manager and USPTA Elite Professional, strings a tennis racket Tuesday at First Serve Tennis Center in South Sioux City.…

First Serve also offers a youth scholarship program, which allows families who qualify for the free and reduced school lunch program to receive a discount on clinic prices. 

“We’re trying to broaden the reach of tennis in this community and the appeal of tennis in this community,” Bieber said. “I think it’s been quite successful in helping kids of lesser means.” 

Bieber said First Serve “struck gold” with its first tennis instructor, Danny Graves, who he said is “fabulous” with both kids and adults. 

“Today, we now have three full-time instructors, plus some additional part-time instructors. I think that just demonstrates that there was an unmet need in this metro area for tennis,” he said. 

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