Marion Tennis

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Living in a city where basketball and football make up the majority of most newspaper headlines, many residents of Marion, Indiana do not realize that their local high school has one of the most successful, most prestigious tennis programs in the state. Even before a team for the high school was established, tennis thrived in Marion, especially among the city’s youth. It was those same youth whose zeal for tennis propelled Marion High School into becoming a tennis powerhouse in the 1970s all the way up to the mid 1990s. The high school tennis team itself has a rich, unique history of its own, not only for its many successful alumni, but for its coaches as well. All of its accomplishments aside, Marion’s tennis program has played an essential role in Marion by bringing to the community both a sense of unity and pride.

Early tennis in Marion

There was a small tennis community in Marion well before any kind of high school team or league was created with city limits, and this community in a sense was a foundation for what was to eventually become an organized high school tennis team. The beginnings of Marion tennis reside back to the 1920s, and they were substantially humble beginnings at that. For a short while, the only courts were a pair located near what is now the local hospital, but they were demolished soon after the United States entered World War II. Because all the materials needed to manufacture tennis equipment were sent to the military to help the war effort, tennis was nearly impossible to play.

Despite these hard times, tennis was not completely dead during the war. In the 1930s, the Barnes family constructed a new tennis court along present day 6th street. Although it was a private court at first, the Barnes made it open to the public, since it was the only tennis court in Marion at the time. It never got any continuous public use until after World War II was over. The Barnes’ Court remained the only tennis court in town for nearly twenty years, but this did not hinder the growth of tennis’s popularity among Marion’s youth. The local tennis players were soon knocking on the doors of City Hall, advocating for more tennis courts to be built.

In 1952, their wish was granted; another tennis court was constructed in Matter Park. Yet another one was built the following year, also in Matter Park. These courts still exist today – they are courts #3 and #4. When these courts were first constructed, they had quite a unique surface, because they were covered by a thin layer of a substance called genite, an oil-like medium that caused the ball to skid at an alarming rate. Only players from Marion knew how to play effectively on the Matter Park tennis courts. Despite only having three courts in the entire city, to of which were bordering the line of safety, it was certainly an improvement from just one court. Tennis became only more popular among Marion’s youth. One particular group of youths was quite skilled compared to their other tennis peers, and this group included tennis greats Jules Walker and Jim Smithley. These young men played a crucial role in getting the Marion High School tennis program started.

Shortly after the two courts at the park were built, another young man who played with Walker and Smithley, Dean Wolf, found out that some of cities surrounding Marion were starting a friendly municipal league, and he encouraged the other players in their group to join the league to make a team from Marion. Kokomo, Muncie, Wabash, Frankfort, Anderson, and Lafayette Jeff were also in the league, which continued into the 1970s. Marion was fairly successful in the municipal league, and even won the last championship match held before the league was discontinued. One of the most important factors in securing Marion’s foundations as a tennis city was the building of the three tennis courts, which enabled children to get out and work on their game more often. Even more important was that these children stuck together and formed close bonds with one another, which helped them work as a team to expand the Marion tennis program. Neither the Matter Park courts nor Marion’s participation in the municipal league would have been possible without the children’s sense of unity with each other.

Marion High School tennis

Although the pre-high-school-team years of the tennis program in Marion were immensely important to the tennis program as we know it today, local residents are probably more familiar with the high school tennis team’s accomplishments. As impressive as the team’s history is, success was not awarded overnight. From when it was founded in 1951 up until the early 1970s, Marion was not at all a top contender in the state tournament. Jules Walker, one of the teenagers who played on the Matter Park courts in the 1950s, later became Marion’s tennis coach from 1960 to 1966. He explained that Marion’s lack of early success was simply caused by a lack of interest in tennis. The popularity of tennis in Marion was closely related to tennis’s popularity in the United States as a whole, and from the time when the tennis team was formed in 1951 up until around the 1970s, tennis was simply not popular in America.

When the 70s emerged, however, America experienced an enormous growth in tennis popularity, and Marion followed suit. From 1970 to 1995, legendary coach Bill Beekman led the Marion squad to several successful state tournament runs, and actually won the state championship in 1991. This is an incredible accomplishment, considering that Marion is one out of only three schools outside of Marion County to ever have won the state championship. Many local tennis players agree that a large part of Marion’s success was it having erected an indoor tennis facility in the mid-1970s. An indoor tennis facility is crucial to any tennis program because it allows players to train all year round, regardless of the weather outside. When the facility finally closed twelve years after being constructed, Marion’s tennis program began to weaken. Without the ability to practice all year, other tennis programs were starting to catch up with Marion’s. Although the program has struggled in recent years, Marion always has, and always will receive respect from its opponents. They never cease to recognize that Marion has always been one of Indiana’s top schools for tennis.


As stated before, tennis may not be the most popular sport in Marion, Indiana, but it has certainly had a significant impact on the city. Not many other sports can boast of such an impressive amount of state tournament wins or conference titles. The prestige of the tennis team gives Marion and its high school a positive image. It also gives Marion something to be proud of, and that is what brings us closer together as a community.

Works Cited

  • Beekman, Bill. Phone Interview. 14 May 2009.
  • "" IHSTECA. 17 May 2009 <>.
  • Porter, Doug. "Marion High School Tennis." (Journal name not given) 1 (2009): 1.
  • Walker, Jules. Personal Interview. 15 May 2009.


This article was written by Alex Hornett and submitted on May 21, 2009 to Mr. Munn's ACP U.S. History class.