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Wilton

Serving up  tradition

Wilton Center Tennis Club commemorate 100 years of history on the clay courts

  • Wilton Tennis Club members met on Saturday to celebrate the 100-year birthday of the organization.
  • Wilton Tennis Club members met on Saturday to celebrate the 100-year birthday of the organization.
  • Wilton Tennis Club members met on Saturday to celebrate the 100-year birthday of the organization.
  • Wilton Tennis Club members met on Saturday to celebrate the 100-year birthday of the organization.
  • Wilton Tennis Club members met on Saturday to celebrate the 100-year birthday of the organization.
  • Wilton Tennis Club members met on Saturday to celebrate the 100-year birthday of the organization.
  • Wilton Tennis Club members met on Saturday to celebrate the 100-year birthday of the organization.
  • Wilton Tennis Club members met on Saturday to celebrate the 100-year birthday of the organization.
  • Wilton Tennis Club members met on Saturday to celebrate the 100-year birthday of the organization.
  • Wilton Tennis Club members met on Saturday to celebrate the 100-year birthday of the organization.
  • Wilton Tennis Club members met on Saturday to celebrate the 100-year birthday of the organization.
  • Wilton Tennis Club members met on Saturday to celebrate the 100-year birthday of the organization.

WILTON — On Saturday, men and women were dressed in tennis whites and gracing the courts at the local Wilton Center Tennis Club, to honor its founding members, as the club celebrates its 100th year of existence.

Things aren’t exactly as they were when the club first formed in 1913, though. For one thing, some of the doubles pairs on the court are comprised of women, which wasn’t allowed back when the club first began. But some things never change. For example, a missed ball is almost never the player’s fault, members joke. It can be blamed on the infamous “Wilton Bounce” — or lack of bounce — on the clay courts. Occasionally, the blame can be laid on the neighbor’s cow, Clover, who apparently never fails to let out a loud “moo” during crucial serves and hits.

Randy Dunn of Wilton has been a member of the club for more than 60 years. “My parents used to bring me up here in a bassinet,” he said between matches Saturday. “Every Saturday morning and Sunday afternoon.” Dunn spent his childhood weekends on the court, learning court etiquette from his grandfather, including cleaning the court after every use, and taking his own tennis lessons.

“I had a tennis teacher, Dick Summers. At the end of every lesson, he would hit five tennis balls at you. If you hit all five back, you earned a dollar,” Dunn recalled. “I just about spent my life trying to earn that dollar.”

The makeup and attitude of the club has changed over the years, said Dunn, as tennis has become a more popular sport and less a past time for the elite. The club was originally founded by several wealthy families that spent their summers in Wilton, but didn’t actually live there. Now, it’s become a much more social avenue.

According to the club president, Paul Buffum, in the late 1800s the Wilton Center started to become a popular spot to build summer homes. With a lot of professionals building summer homes and seeking entertainment in an area that didn’t have a ocean, beach or high mountain in town, tennis became a rising sport. But there wasn’t a place to play in town, leaving most of the enthusiasts with private courts. Then, C.F. Ryder began to allow the summer colony use of his court as a club court, and it became known as the “Community Court.” That’s when the Wilton Center Tennis Club was born — dating back to 1913.

But the sport kept growing in popularity, until it became clear that more courts were needed to support the playing population. Charles Bushnell, who owned a home on the hilltop above Wilton Center, agreed to donate a tract of land big enough to build three new courts on, and after a major fundraising effort, the courts were built in 1920.

The club thrived, until the arrival of World War II, when the club membership, exclusively men, went off to war, and the courts fell into disrepair. But when the war ended, the members came back determined to get the courts back into shape and take up where they left off. There was only one problem. The land had never officially been deeded to them. And Bushnell, who donated the property, had since died, and the property had passed into the hands of Donald Scott. Club members went back and forth on how to untangle the situation, before simply approaching Scott, who immediately deeded the property to the club. And that has been the home of their three clay courts ever since.

“Wilton Center is no longer a summer colony,” said Buffum. “Summer vacationers go to beaches and mountains, not the quiet woods of Wilton Center. The current membership, consisting of about 50 people, keeps alive the wonderful traditions of the old club.”

The club is now celebrating its 100 year anniversary. The club will be holding centennial events throughout the summer. For more information about the Wilton Center Tennis Club, visit their Facebook page. The Wilton Tennis Club meets for men’s tennis on Sunday at 9 a.m., women’s tennis on Wednesday at 3 p.m. Private lessons can also be purchased.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter at @AshleySaari.

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