ESCANABA - One of the oldest tennis tournaments in the Midwest is set to return to Ludington Park this weekend. Tennis players across the U.P. and Northern Wisconsin are honing their skills for the 67th Annual Michigan-Wisconsin Tennis Open, held Saturday and Sunday.
Action is scheduled to begin Saturday morning at the newly-resurfaced courts at Ludington Park.
Earlier this month, 3800 pounds of excess material was removed from the courts and cracks were filled.
"It's in really nice shape right now. It's a nice plus for the tournament," said Escanaba Recreation Director Tom Penegor.
The tournament had 79 players signed up as of Tuesday morning and Penegor noted he usually gets 10-20 more last-minute entries. Players can continue to sign up through Thursday morning by contacting Penegor at 786-4141 or Denny Lueneberg at 786-2207. Entry fee is $18 for singles players and $22 per doubles team, which includes a t-shirt.
Among the players entered are 2013 singles champion Brett Girard of Marquette as well as runner-up Mark Stinski of Appleton, Wis.
Luke Ogren of Escanaba, now attending Lake Superior State to play tennis will also play in the tournament. Last season, he was runner-up in the Mixed Doubles division, paired with Erin Gregoire of Escanaba.
Glenn Pearson will return once again to play in the tournament. Last year he won the B Doubles title with Penegor.
"We have a good mix," said Penegor. "A lot of the time, the people that play singles will also play doubles, although some will only play doubles."
The tournament will add to an already festive weekend on the waterfront. The Waterfront Art Festival (Art in the Park) and Rock the Dock 3 will be ongoing simultaneously. Penegor invites festival goers to stop and watch some tennis while they're out during the weekend.
"Hopefully being that this is the same time as Art in the Park and Rock the Dock, one will draw off the other," he said. "People from out of town will have plenty to do. It should be a real nice weekend. The weather is always a factor, but it's such a great venue. You can't find a nicer venue with the breeze off the water, the lake in the background. It's a good family event."
While tennis has strong roots in Escanaba with Escanaba High School coaches Denny Lueneberg and Jim Hansen always getting good participation on their teams and players from the area continuing to play into adulthood, the sport as a whole has suffered recently from an overall lack of participation. Penegor said a second function of the weekend tournament is promotion.
"Ultimately our goal is to promote the sport, promote the exercise of playing tennis," he said. "It's a sport you can play until basically your 80s. You get hand-eye coordination, a little bit of running, cardio-exercise, and you get outside, you get fresh air and exercise.
"It's not a real expensive sport. You just need to get a racket and that will last you a long time. Balls are about $2 and then you just need a pair of tennis shoes. Pretty much anybody can play.
The Michigan-Wisconsin Open has been played since the 1940s and often draws around 100 players or more. Penegor said the tennis environment of Escanaba helps contribute.
"I think we're blessed in Escanaba to have as many tennis courts as we do," he said, noting the courts at Ludington Park, Escanaba High School and Veterans Park.
"We have lighted courts and we're maybe the only place in the Upper Peninsula that does. We're very happy we can offer that. On a summer night, you can get together with your friends, play and have a good time."