Alexandria, VA – Tracy Phillips wanted to play more tennis. While she enjoyed the ladies summer league that connected teams from neighborhood pools, it only ran for two months over the summer. Phillips wanted more matches and more options to square off against local opponents.
There were little to no opportunities for local league play on public courts in the fall and spring. She considered a flex league in a national tennis program, but the rules were cumbersome, the travel onerous, and the communication slow. She knew there had to be a better way and thought, “Let me see if I can do this myself.”
Phillips had a hunch it would appeal to local players, as the Round Robin gatherings after the summer sessions were usually well-attended. So she sent an email to gauge interest, and all of a sudden, she had 30 women signed up. She fed the names into a Google sheet, assigned divisions of play and a general schedule for singles and doubles, and emailed it back to the group.
Players were then tasked to reach out to their opponents and schedule the matches, with weekly play-by dates. Although this was the pivotal “flex” nature of the program, it was also the most challenging aspect of the entire exercise. Getting four busy women with kids and jobs to find a mutually agreeable time to play was nearly impossible. Still, the women made it work.
And it was a smashing success. As Karen Gardiner said, “I have met so many excellent tennis players and very nice women. It is a wonderful opportunity to play competitive, friendly tennis with women, get some exercise, and be outside.”
Stephanie Fultz agreed. “I know so many of the players in this league who are busy juggling a lot of responsibilities between kids and work, and the flex scheduling gives everyone that opportunity to fit in a weekly fun and competitive match.”
Players who belonged to the local indoor Mount Vernon Athletic Club (MTVAC) also sought out the Fort Hunt Flex league. “Sure, we had our standing games with other club members, but the Flex league added another level of fun playing locally and meeting new players,” said Doreen Reilly.
Word of mouth spread, and the Flex league grew. Phillips began using a popular app, TennisPoint, to do the heavy lifting of scheduling and roster management. For the paltry fee of $5 per person, TennisPoint freed up Phillips’s valuable time and kept the league going strong.
When the pandemic hit in March 2020, MTVAC temporarily closed its doors like all other indoor facilities. Two months later, the club announced it had been sold, much to the chagrin of its now-stranded members.
“When MTVAC closed, I thought I wouldn’t be able to keep playing as often as I liked,” said Vanessa Vega-Pena. “But the Flex league came to the rescue! I’ve met so many more local players, and it’s been great.”
The closure of MTVAC spurred more growth in the Flex league. The roster is now up to some 80 players, including a few men for mixed doubles.
Kellie Healy said, “The Flex League is year-round, no membership is required, and there’s only a modest fee to help offset the cost of the software. I’m so thankful to Tracy Phillips for putting it all together for our area. It has been especially nice during the pandemic to get out of my house and play some tennis.”
Michelle Lehman added, “In addition to a love for tennis, many of us are working moms looking for an outlet and good exercise. It goes without saying that we’ve all been cooped up during the pandemic, so having a safe, socially distant activity to look forward to each week is a treat.”
Tracy Phillips is humbled and happy for the league’s success. She added some male players for mixed doubles this spring and may consider adding men and youth leagues in the future. “I think that would be a much bigger undertaking, probably a little beyond my scope. For now, I’m just content so many players are keeping this engine running.”
Mara Stengler summed up the appeal of the league. “I love the Flex league because not only do you learn to work with your partner, but you also get to meet twice as many great players in this area. Plus, you get to reconnect with people you have known for years. So much fun!” To learn more about the Fort Hunt Flex league, visit www.fthuntflex.com.