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Tennis Center of Camden celebrates grand opening

Posted: April 23, 2018 4:40 p.m.
Updated: April 24, 2018 1:00 a.m.
Martin L. Cahn/C-I

C-I WEB EXTRA: Tennis Center of Camden and Pickleball Plaza Director Paola Maoli speaks during Thursday afternoon’s grand opening for the facility, which actually opened in late January. Maoli said the center was “just an idea, maybe a dream, (that) finally has been transformed into a reality.”

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More than 100 people, including many elected and other officials, crowded in front of the main entrance to the new Tennis Center of Camden and Pickleball Plaza on Campbell Street on Thursday afternoon to celebrate the facility’s official grand opening.

The tennis center -- which cost more than $3 million to construct -- began operations in late January, hosting its first tournament during the first weekend in February. Events continued into March and April, with more on the way through September. Some event organizers have already committed to coming in 2019 as well.

“It’s exciting for all of us,” City Manager Mel Pearson said as he greeted those gathered. “Some of us have been working on this project for two years now and we’re glad to see it come to this level of excitement.”

Camden Mayor Alfred Mae Drakeford, noting the sunny, but windy conditions, said the city built the tennis and pickleball center for both casual and tournament play.

“(It) started out as a dream and now has become a reality,” Drakeford said, a sentiment that would later be echoed by Tennis Center of Camden Director Paola Maoli.

Drakeford went on to thank current and past members of Camden City Council for all having the same vision when they began planning the project.

“As I stood before the group on March 28 (2017), at the groundbreaking ceremony, I said that this complex will bring new life to this area of Camden, serving as an anchor in our downtown district providing renovated recreational space for resident,” Drakeford said. “I also said it would attract visitors from across South Carolina for both recreational play and tournaments with a state of the art facility featuring both tennis and pickleball (courts), walking trails and lighting throughout. We look forward to this complex being utilized by and for a variety of reasons.”

The mayor said the new facility “symbolizes the strength and beauty” of the surrounding neighborhood and has quickly become one of the “most exciting places” in the city.

“This facility didn’t ‘just happen,’” Drakeford said, going on to thank a number of different people who worked on the project from start to finish, including City Building Official John Burns who, she said, “who was here almost every day, making sure the Ts were crossed and Is were dotted.”

Drakeford also invited everyone to come to the city-sponsored Classically Carolina Junior State Open Championships, which took place Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Following the ribbon cutting, Maoli spoke briefly about coming on board as the center’s director.

“If someone had told me a little more than a year ago that I would be standing here as the director of the Tennis Center and Pickleball Plaza of Camden, I would have recommended a serious mental check-up,” Maoli began, getting a chuckle from the crowd. “Here we all are celebrating was once just an idea, maybe a dream, (that) finally has been transformed into reality.”

She called Camden’s ability to “offer so much to so many” while keeping the charm of a Southern town “an invaluable asset that can’t be purchased.” Maoli said the center will not only add to that character and serve as a place to play the sport, but to get together, renew friendships and make new ones.

“All of this came about through a massive community effort, through the dedication and vision of our community leaders,” she said, adding that she is committed to making every effort not just to have the center succeed, but prospers for current players and generations to come.

Following the ceremony, Maoli invited those gathered to engage in or watch some special activities, including a “hit and miss” game led by City Councilman Stephen Smoak, a tennis ball machine for people to try, another ball machine on the pickleball courts, at least one pickleball exhibit match, and pickleball equipment for visitors to try. In addition, the Camden Military Academy tennis team played a match against Ben Lippen School on a number of the courts, and Maoli invited attendees to watch those games as well.

According to a calendar of events Maoli recently provided, the next major event the tennis center will host will be the Mark Renneson Pickleball Classic the weekend of June 1-3.

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