Eglin Air Force Base.jpg
Eglin Air Force Base (photo credit: Trevor Chan)

Joel Drucker: 'Boots on the Court' Brings Tennis to Military Bases

When you think of a military base, order and discipline are the typical watchwords. Subdued and organized as these venues can be, they are of course focused on serious business.

But there surely must be the occasional counterbalance, a chance for those on the base and the greater community to unwind. And why not bring tennis into the mix?

Enter The Blue Sky Foundation. Headed by former pro Dick Stockton, the Blue Sky Foundation is a non-profit organization that draws on the power of tennis to conduct charity events throughout the world. One of the foundation’s major initiatives is called “Boots on the Court,” Stockton and his colleagues staging tennis events at military bases.

Dick Stockton at West Point (photo credit: Trevor Chan)

A typical “Boots on the Court” event will have as many as 100 participants – children, parents and adults, all engaged with clinics, drills, games and more. “It’s great to see kids engaged in tennis this way,” says Alan Waterman, center operations supervisor, USO San Antonio. “You see how people are enjoying themselves, getting involved in the sport, lots of smiles. I’ve been to a few clinics in my day, but this is really special to see someone like Dick coming to our base.”

“Tennis brings people together,” says Stockton. The kids and parents fully appreciate all the enjoyment that can be had on the tennis court. It’s a wonderful opportunity to get involved in something that’s healthy and you can play your whole life.”

At 66 years old, Stockton remains fit, graced with the deft volleys, feel and all-court command that over the course of a 15-year pro career helped him win eight ATP World Tour singles titles, represent the US in Davis Cup and reach a career-high ranking of #8 in the world in 1977. But as proficient as Stockton was at attaining mastery of an individual sport, he’s long known that success is never a solo effort. “Boots on the Court” events draw on a wide range of resources, ranging from Stockton’s wife Liz to his former college teammate, ex-pro Brian Gottfried, to a wide range of tennis aficionados and local teaching pros who volunteer to help stage each event.

“There’s a lot of stress in the military,” says Waterman, “so to do this on a base is very nice.”

“When I was a little boy,” says Stockton, “I heard that if you ever get to a certain level, you better be ready to give back. You think of all the people who gave to you -- the adults who played with you, the people who let me play on their courts, the people who gave some money. You’ve got to pay it back. Everyone tries to do it in their way, so this is how we’re showing our appreciation for the sacrifices everyone on these bases makes, from adults to kids, on a daily basis.”

Upcoming “Boots on the Court” events in 2017 are currently scheduled for Fort Bragg, North Carolina; West Point, New York; San Antonio, Texas; McDill Air Force Base (Tampa, FL); and Patrick Air Force Base (Patrick, FL). Others are also being conceived.

Dick Stockton at Fort Bragg (photo credit: Trevor Chan)

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