Jan. 13, 2013
By Jon Cooper
A lot of history was made in the Bill Moore Tennis Center.
Some of the greatest players in Georgia Tech history took to those courts and improved their games to the point they could reach the pro tour.
Current Georgia Tech men’s tennis head coach Kenny Thorne is one of those. He played AND coached there in his four decorated years on the Flats (1985-89).
On Thursday afternoon, Thorne will see the opening of the Ken Byers Tennis Complex, as the Women’s Tennis Team opens the facility with a match against Syracuse — his men’s team opens on Friday, against Old Dominion. In a way, it’ll be deja vu for Thorne, who was a freshman the year the Moore Center opened.
“It’s just a very unique thing. It’s an honor to be coaching here at this time and it’s an honor for all of our student-athletes to be able to be opening a new facility,” said the ’89 graduate and 1995 Georgia Tech Sports Hall of Fame inductee. “That doesn’t happen too often in any sport. To be this year…We can’t wait to get going in there. It’s going to be exciting.”
Women’s head coach Rodney Harmon, whose team will play the first matches on the brand new six-court facility, doesn’t have the Tech pedigree yet as he is beginning his first spring as coach for the Jackets, but he’s been around the sport long enough to know something special when he sees it. He’s seen it with the Byers Complex.
Ground was broken for the facility on June 15, 2012 and was made possible by a generous gift from alumnus Ken Byers (class of ’66) and his wife, Trish.
“It’s going to be beautiful and it’s going to help both our men’s and women’s programs stay a factor with the other schools, in our very, very tough conference,” said Harmon, who has been in tennis player development for more than 25 years and, as a pro, reached the quarterfinals at the 1982 U.S. Open. “It has a great feeling, which I think will help us set up a home-court advantage because a lot of our fans tend to be very vocal and really support our team.”
As advantageous to the team is the amount of space. Off the court, Byers will have bigger locker rooms, a lounge, a training facility and more office space for the coaching staffs. There also will be double the number of available courts for play inside, going from three to six.
“I think it’s going to be big for us,” Harmon said. “It will allow us to compete year-round and when the weather gets inclement we’ll have a place to play. We’ve always had to play outside and it can get pretty cold sometimes. Now we’re going to be able to play indoors and really get prepared for the indoor season, which starts in February.”
The doubling of the court space was a key factor in building the new complex.
“You need space and you need quality space and if that means new or renovations then so be it,” said acting Athletic Director Paul Griffin. “Our biggest motivation for re-doing the facility was we didn’t have six indoor courts. We had three. You can’t run an indoor match effectively and efficiently with that few courts. So now, we’ll have an efficient way of running our indoor matches and because of the weather you wind up playing almost half of your matches indoors as compared to outdoors be it for wet or for cold.”
Thorne and Harmon agree that the opening of the Byers Complex signals the start of big things ahead. Thorne compares the anticipation of the facility’s opening to the buzz surrounding the opening of McCamish Pavilion and expects Tech tennis fans to be as energized as basketball fans.
“It’s just fun to walk through.” he said. “The designers of the tennis complex were walking through yesterday and you could just see the excitement of them being able to show it. I remember going in [McCamish] before they opened it. It’s stunning. It’s such a big change and ours is a total change. It’s a whole brand-new complex. There are some really exciting things happening. So hopefully it’s going to draw a lot more people out. They come see the facility as well as some great tennis.”
Harmon expects the facility to also draw some big-name recruits.
“It’s going to give us an opportunity to recruit top-level athletes because now a lot of the top schools have new facilities around the country, whether it’s Alabama or Florida State or South Carolina, Texas is getting a new facility built,” he said. “So now we’re going to have a new facility. It’s something that to our recruits that makes us a lot stronger.”
The Byers Complex, built exactly where the Moore Center stood, is light years ahead of its predecessor and was overdue as far as keeping Tech’s programs current. The ingenuity in building a facility that could fit so much more into the same space as its predecessor made this project design uniquely Tech.
“Thirty years is a long time,” said Griffin. “It’s not a matter of different inclusions. It’s a matter of improved space. It’s a tight footprint. The real estate didn’t change, so we had to make some compromises on that and one of the other things was to relocate the indoor facility to the 10th street side of the real estate because it will serve as a buffer from the noise and street from 10th street for the outdoor courts that wasn’t there before. So there are a lot of those kinds of features that are now a benefit for the program.”
“It has a bunch of other features that are assets to the Institute and to athletics in other ways than just tennis,” he added. “There’s a seating area for track, a pathway from the parking lot to McCamish, a parking lot on Atlantic to McCamish, improved sidewalks and streetscapes. So it’s a very comprehensive project.”
For the school, it’s the latest improvement to the campus’ Fowler Street entrance.
“The Brock Facility next door, that’s relatively new,” Griffin said. “It’s only been four or five years that the Mewborn Softball Stadium opened up. So the whole quadrant’s taken a dramatic change in the past five or six years, during [former AD Dan Radakovich’s] tenure and it provides a whole new perspective on the athletic fiscal plan.”
That exciting plan will continue to evolve in years to come. The tennis teams are thrilled to be part of it and are eager to do their part to stir up excitement around campus as they begin spring play.
“It is a tremendous commitment.” said Harmon. “That whole side of campus, with the new basketball arena, with the tennis facility, with the track and the indoor football complex and baseball and softball, it’s going to be a great corner of campus. It’s very exciting that it’s going to come up and we can’t wait to move in. We can’t wait to get in there and compete. It all starts for us on the 17th.”
“I want to give special thanks to Ken Byers and all the donors that made it possible,” said Thorne. “We can’t wait to get going in there. It’s going to be exciting. It’s going to be a fun and exciting year. We’ll have a nice grand opening before the women’s tennis match. We want to get as many people out there as we can. I think it’s going to be a special time.”
A special time that’s just getting started.