Swiggarts prepare for final Steamboat set | SteamboatToday.com

Swiggarts prepare for final Steamboat set

Jim and Stacy Swiggart have run the publicly owned Tennis Center at Steamboat Springs for 25 years. They'll step down this fall, but not before a Saturday party in their honor, coming in the midsts of the annual Steamboat Tennis Association tournament.
Joel Reichenberger

— After 25 years of shaping tennis in Steamboat Springs, the husband-wife team of Jim and Stacy Swiggart are stepping down this fall from their role directing the Tennis Center at Steamboat Springs.

There will be some changes in their lives, the team admitted on Thursday. For instance, they intend to spend most of their winter days in Denver instead of Steamboat.

But some things may not change.

How exactly does Jim Swiggart anticipate spending his retirement?

“There’s a chance I’ll be helping another tennis center in Denver,” he said.

At least it fits.

In 25 years in Steamboat Springs, the Swiggarts proved tireless advocates for tennis in the Rocky Mountains. They ran the publicly owned Tennis Center from its first day in 1991, oversaw a major rebuilding of the center in 2007 and will finally turn over the reins in October.

This weekend, the Swiggarts will help oversee their 25th Steamboat Tennis Association Summer Championships tournament — a unique event that combines area juniors and adults in the same brackets.

That tournament begins Friday morning and runs through Sunday afternoon. Midway through, in place of the usual players dinner on Saturday, the event will serve as a platform to honor the Swiggarts and their contributions to tennis in Steamboat.

“We just thought it was a great time to celebrate Jim and Stacy,” said Loretta Conway, business development director for the Tennis Center and executive director for the STA.

Loretta and her husband, Bill Conway, will be the two taking over for the Swiggarts in October.

On Saturday, the Tennis Center will play host to a Swiggart celebration beginning at 4:30 p.m. and continuing until 6 p.m., featuring various food offerings contributed from local restaurants.

“The whole town is invited,” Conway said.

Coming home

Tennis has defined the Swiggarts in Steamboat Springs for 25 years, and it’s defined their lives. Stacy Swiggart was a high school standout in Nebraska and played collegiately on four conference championship teams at Oklahoma State University.

Jim and Stacy were working in the sport in Houston when in 1991, the opportunity to move to take over Steamboat’s sparkling new tennis facility presented itself.

At that point, the centerpiece was the “tennis bubble,” four clay courts inside a giant white balloon of fabric. They said children thought if you poked the bubble, it might pop, and the Swiggarts more than a few times opened up for business in the morning to find evidence the myth had been busted yet again.

Frost would form on the ceiling of the bubble on cold winter nights, then, when warmed during the day, rain down on players.

The elements finally did what knives couldn’t, and in 2007, the damage to the exterior of the fabric required a change. The structure was replaced with the current facility — six indoor hard courts covered by white fabric supported by a metal superstructure.

The result has been a complex that’s been repeatedly selected for awards at the national and state levels. It was honored by the United States Tennis Association Facility Awards Program in 2011. It received the E.L. Griffey Award, “presented to a Colorado organization for outstanding contributions to its tennis community,” from the Colorado Tennis Association in January.

“Every time we go somewhere, to New York for the U.S. Open or something, people say, ‘I want to move there. I want to live there,’” Jim Swiggart said. “It’s not just because it’s Steamboat Springs but also because they’re avid tennis players and have access to a tennis center.”

The Swiggarts sought from the beginning to incorporate more tournaments into the facility’s annual schedule, and point today, to the many racquet-armed visitors those efforts brought to town.

Some initiatives didn’t last, such as dodgeball leagues that filled the facility on weekday nights for several months during the winter in 2008.

Others grew slowly.

The Swiggarts said pickleball initially gave them pause for several reasons. Jim Swiggart said tennis tournament sanctioning bodies wouldn’t allow pickleball lines on tournament courts, and the tape pickleball devotees would lay down left residue on the court, even though the players proved cooperative and diligent in cleaning up.

The sport — a derivative of tennis played on a smaller court that is, thanks to the use of a whiffle ball, much slower — proved overwhelming, however. It’s popular with older players who appreciate that it’s less taxing than tennis.

This summer, the Tennis Center unveiled eight new pickleball-specific courts, converted from two of the center’s outdoor clay courts.

“One of the important things for us is the health of the Tennis Center at Steamboat Springs 25 years from now,” Jim Swiggart said. “One way to ensure that health is getting another user group. That group looks to be pickleball.”

A tennis family

Steamboat’s proven a home to Jim and Stacy, and their family, daughter Kylee and son Jamey, both born in Steamboat Springs. The two went on to play tennis collegiately, and Jamey played NCAA Division 1 tennis at University of Utah.

In December, Jim Swiggart was diagnosed with non-smokers lung cancer. He had struggled with breathing while playing with Stacy Swiggart in a national doubles tournament.

Fortunately, oral chemotherapy treatments have so far proven effective.

“It has worked, so far,” he said. “Cancer has a way of getting around drugs. So far, we’ve been incredibly blessed and lucky. When someone tells you there’s a tumor in your lower lobe and we even get the six months we’ve had, you’re blessed.”

The most noticeable effects from the outside to this point: increases in both acne and in sensitivity to the sun.

“You wear a lot of funny hats,” Jim Swiggart said. “Other than that, we’re doing pretty good.”

In some ways, maybe those pickleball courts are symbolic of what the Swiggarts hope to leave in Steamboat.

Jim Swiggart said pickleball now accounts for about 10 percent of the facilities receipts, up from 2 percent five years ago. It also brings in a new audience, about 50 percent, he guessed, who wouldn’t be playing any sports at the center were it not for pickleball.

“We’ve seen a whole new user group we’d never seen before in Steamboat,” Stacy Swiggart said. “They’re good people, a nice user group, and it’s been great.”

Those courts weren’t there 25 years ago, when Jim and Stacy rolled into town, but they are there now, a part of what the couple hopes is a thriving, strong and successful facility they’re leaving to the next generation of owners, the Conways.

Jim and Stacy said the one constant in their Steamboat years was the passion for the sport from the public. They’re confident they’ll leave that intact, along with an award-winning facility capable of handling whatever comes next.

“The nice part is when someone who’s never been to the tennis center comes in, they’re shocked,” Stacy Swiggart said. “They say, ‘Wow, this place is gorgeous.’”

Jim Swiggart continued.

“We came here in 1991 and the Tennis Center at Steamboat Springs had never opened. Now 25 years later, it’s one of the most successful public tennis facilities in the United States,” Jim Swiggart said. “What we believe we leave for the city, for Bill and Loretta, is a much stronger, financially sound operation.”

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253, email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @JReich9

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