Greater Cincinnati has a rich tennis tradition dating back to the turn of the 20th century and the birth of what is now known as the Western & Southern Open.
But for thousands of Tri-State kids their love affair with the sport is rooted in their association with a tiny upstart camp started four decades ago in Sharonville.
This summer The Contardi Tennis Camp is celebrating 40 years of athletic and social commitment to boys and girls in the region.
"There was a tennis boom in the '70s all across the country, all across the world as a matter of fact. It hit a lull in the '80s but not in Cincinnati," said Steve Contardi who co-founded the the camp back in 1975 with famous coach Nick Bollettieri. "I'd like to consider us a part of the Cincinnati tennis tradition."
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The camp continues to offer programs for boys and girls, ages 5 to 18, at all ability levels. It was the first of its kind in Cincinnati when it opened at The Queen City Racquet Club. It remains a fixture in the community today.
“It takes courage and vision to do something not done before,” said Bollettieri, a 2014 inductee into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
“I’m very proud of Steve Contardi and his staff. The boys and girls in Cincinnati are fortunate to have such an opportunity to learn to play and enjoy a great game of tennis in the fun and encouraging atmosphere Steve has fostered."
Through 40 years, thousands of local boys and girls have spent summer days at the camp, now based at The Club at Harper’s Point on E. Kemper Road. It has been there since 1978, serving as home away from home like people like Edward Kuresman.
“I was fortunate to have spent most of my summers at the Contardi Camp," recalled Kuresman, who attended the camp from age 6 through 18. He later went on to play Division I tennis and then became an investment advisor.
“I had a blast and learned how to be successful on and off the court,” he said.
Guiding the camp this year was Ali Ismail, head tennis pro at Harper’s Point and a fixture at the Contardi Camp since its inception.
“We have watched so many kids grow up and it’s a treat to now be watching their kids. Both Steve and I are the grandfathers to our campers,” he said.
Many of the staffers at this year’s camp, June 2 through Aug. 15, have included local tennis players and coaches. Some of them were receiving instruction on those same courts in the not-so-distant past.
Part of the reason they say the come back year after year is their love for Contardi and his program, what both have taught them about themselves as athletes and people. After all, they spent their formative summers together out on the hard courts.
"The atmosphere (they) created was one of the most influential life shapers for me,” said Alison (Levy) Tintle. “Every day I wish my kids had the same safe haven to play hard and make friends.”
Tintle traveled across the country from Seattle earlier this summer for the camp's 40th anniversary celebration.
“I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” she said before the reunion at Harper’s Point.
Another person at the event in June was Marty Wolf, a former Xavier University athletic standout and successful businessman. He was an instructor at the first camp way back in 1975.
Contardi's business partner, John Newcombe, says people like Wolf, Tintle and Kuresman love the camp because Contardi loves it, as well as those who show up every season.
“Steve’s concern and care for the people and the program that he’s involved with is blatantly obvious,” said Newcombe, a three-time Wimbledon champion and Contardi's partner on a long-running tennis fantasy camp.
“His goal is to make everyone happy and his passion for the great game of tennis is admirable. He has been truly a great partner,” he added.
While Contardi clearly enjoys the success his program his had over the years, it seems that he basks in knowing that he's played a role in advancing the game of tennis and the lives of some of those who play it.
“Forty years ago we brought the idea of a tennis camp to Cincinnati," Contardi said. “I’m thankful for 40 years of support from the enthusiastic tennis community and a dedicated staff. It has been a pleasure to have been entrusted with so many kids for all these years and we are all of the longstanding tradition of the camp.”