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Lighting the court to extend the game

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Earle Gatchell on first court.
Earle Gatchell on first court.

Early on, lighting was added to courts so play could continue during short winter days. Blanchard’s description of the first lighting system: “The best procedure is to set up 4 individual poles made of pipe, 2 along each side of the platform at distances of 8 to 14 feet from each corner (opinions vary as to the better of these distances). The pipes should have reflectors at the top with either 750 or 1000 watt bulbs on each, raised about 20 feet above the surface and suspended over the platform on a short arm at the top of the pipe. The lighting cost is not high and can be kept at a very low figure if you have a good amateur plumber and handy man among your friends. Jimmy Cogswell put up the lights at his court and we only needed expert help on the electrical switchboard.” Source: Fessenden S. Blanchard, Paddle Tennis, 1944

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The game breeds self esteem

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A new notice appeared on the Old Army Athletes bulletin board on March 30, 1930. A Scarsdale banker suffering from excessive shyness and protruding ears had become a success in society and business as well as quite the ladies man as a result of playing the game. Frederick Allen, editor of Harper's magazine and poet laureate of the OAA, and his wife were the suspects.

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The game starts to catch on

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The Scarsdale Inquirer of December 11, 1931 carried the story with the headline: "Paddle Tennis for Grown-Ups Grows More and More Popular With This Community. Fame of Game Developed on Wooden Platforms by Two Local Residents Spreads to Other Parts of the Country"

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First club court built at Fox Meadow Tennis Club in Scarsdale, NY

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Of the twenty-five or more families comprising the Old Army Athletes (O.A.A.) in 1928, five were members of Fox Meadow Tennis Club and one of them had built their own court. They urged the club to put in a paddle court so Fox Meadow could become a year round sports rendezvous. Source: Adapted from Fessenden S. Blanchard, Paddle Tennis, 1944 Expanding into an untried sport in the midst of a national economic depression was risky. Gradually worn down by the arguments of its O.A.A. members, the Board of Directors of the Fox Meadow Tennis Club had a meeting on April 15, 1931, to make a crucial decision. Should they or should they not put up a platform tennis court? They represented a tennis club and some of the avid tennis-playing members didn't warm up a bit. Finally, a happy compromise was proposed on which the conservatives and the enthusiasts could agree. The club would put up a p[...]

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Vassar builds first college court

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Vassar President Henry MacCraken dropped by the Blanchard's unexpectedly in late 1931 “to find out about paddle tennis.” It was a necessary visit since an alumna had donated a court. The article headline in the New York Sun on October 24, 1931 read: “Paddle Tennis to Be Tried Out at Vassar.” At the end of a brief article about the game the Sun added, “Vassar is the first college to experiment with the new form of sport.” Unfortunately, the experiment was a failure, likely due to poor choices of court location and backstops, and the fact that there was only one court. Source: Adapted from Fessenden S. Blanchard, Platform Paddle Tennis, 1959 Also see The game starts to catch on

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The appeal of the game

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A snowy day didn’t discourage the crowd of spectators at Fox Meadow Tennis Club.
A snowy day didn’t discourage the crowd of spectators at Fox Meadow Tennis Club.

Frederick Lewis Allen, Editor of Harper's Magazine, wrote the following letter on February 19, 1932 to a lady who had asked him what he thought of the game. The letter was written before the Evans invention had made taking balls off the backstop an assured success, before the sanding technique had practically eliminated slipping during a rain, and when the game was still largely confined to those who learned it on the Cogswell court. “I know of no other active game which can so readily be played outdoors at all seasons and in virtually all weathers. In Scarsdale we play it every week-end from October to May (and sometimes on week-day evenings by artificial light). Golf links and tennis courts may be out of commission; skating ponds may not be frozen over; there may be no skiing or coasting—yet Paddle Tennis goes right on. We play it when the thermometer is below freezing and the s[...]

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Cogswell builds second court

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Caption: Aerial view of the second court near Old Army Road in Scarsdale, New York (Oct. 1932). Ardsley Road is shown at bottom. The Cogswell house is at center. The Blanchard house is out of sight at upper left. As shown, only three sides of the original court were screened.
Caption: Aerial view of the second court near Old Army Road in Scarsdale, New York (Oct. 1932). Ardsley Road is shown at bottom. The Cogswell house is at center. The Blanchard house is out of sight at upper left. As shown, only three sides of the original court were screened.

With the help of a rock wall and some fill, the original platform morphed to the current size of 60’ x 30’. Even with the larger platform and uneven bounces from the wire, the players continued the practice of playing the balls from the wiring. By this time, the wiring height had reached 12’ and used a smaller one-inch mesh. The Cogswell’s held a party right before the demolition of the first court that included dancing on the “doomed” old platform. Source: Adapted from Fessenden S. Blanchard, Platform Paddle Tennis, 1959

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Competitive paddle tennis begins

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By December, there were eight platforms in Scarsdale alone and the first open tournament took place, with forty-two entries. The new, larger Cogswell platform and court were the venue for the finals. Earle Gatchell and Fessenden Blanchard, representing the Old Army Athletes, won an exciting final match, 6-0, 4-6, 6-2, from Randolph Compton and James N. Hynson. "Paddled their way to victory on dry land," said The New York Times. By the end of the year, more than twenty courts had been constructed in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York. These $500-$600 courts were initially popular on private estates. Later on, leading tennis clubs constructed their own courts. Source: Adapted from Fessenden S. Blanchard, Paddle Tennis, 1944, and Platform Paddle Tennis, 1959 Historical Factoid: Lois Proctor - shown above presenting the trophy to Blanchard and Gatchell - had taken quite a [...]

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Court construction plans help the game to expand

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Both clubs and private estate owners usually built the first courts in accordance with plans and specifications provided by Cogswell and Blanchard—at first for nothing and later for a nominal fee. Professor Eliot Dunlap Smith of Yale University assisted in early court improvements with Cogswell and Blanchard. Along with his personal experience playing, he consulted the Yale Department of Forestry for advice. In later years, Scarsdale architect Richard H. Tatlow also served as an advisor and worked in the American Paddle Tennis Association, the forerunner of the present day American Platform Tennis Association (APTA). Source: Adapted from Fessenden S. Blanchard, Paddle Tennis, 1944, and Platform Paddle Tennis, 1959

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Screens are perfected – the games future is assured

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The Evans Backstop Design
The Evans Backstop Design

Donald K. Evans of Fox Meadow solved the game's biggest problem, the unpredictable bounces off the backstops. Without a good solution the game had limited growth potential. Evans devised a method to stretch a one-inch wire mesh from top to bottom inside, but not touching, the uprights surrounding the court. With adjustable tension bars, the Evans Backstop yielded a uniform bounce when a ball hit any of the four screens, and it became standard on all new courts. The future of the game was assured. This new backstop was first erected—with the aid of John G. MacKenty—during the winter of 1934-35 on the second Cogswell court. Don Evans

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