Culver City’s hidden Paddle Tennis history

POWER COUPLE — Mike and Denise Cohen have been playing paddletennis together in Culver City for many years. Mike Cohen, who is known as ‘Mr. Culver City,’ was once a recreation director who organized paddletennis events. Photo by Paul Green

By Paul Green

For a city of its smaller size, Culver City has more than its share of Paddle Tennis courts. Though the sport itself is fairly unknown, there are 14 public courts within the city limits. Four courts are located at the Fox Hills Park, while two are at McManus, three are at the Alla Street location and two at Wade Park. 

However, it is the set of courts located at the intersection of Culver Boulevard and Elenda where the sport and its participants are incredibly passionate about the game. If you aren’t aware of the courts, you’ve most likely passed them and haven’t noticed the competitive play that takes place by a variety of players of all levels, ages and backgrounds. 

Though the courts were built in 1971, the sport was actually created by Reverend Frank Beal in 1898 in Albion Michigan and is often mistaken for racket ball, handball or other racquet sports. 

There is also the misperception that the sport is for old people which is the furthest thing from the truth. The advanced technology in the paddles combined with the influx of former college tennis players has increased the skill set and athleticism to a level that even the traditional tennis players can admire and respect. 

In a sense, it’s like a cross between racquet ball and tennis, with the same scoring increments of tennis with the difference being you only get one serve which has to be below the waist. 

Whether one likes to lob, hit overheads or drop shots, everything you can do in tennis can be done in paddle tennis too. Not having the stigma of elitism of tennis, the paddle tennis community tends to be a close knit group from all walks of life which includes teachers, lawyers, television writers and producers, playwrights and a former mayor.  

Mike Cohen, who is known as “Mr. Culver City,” is one of the sports best known ambassadors of the game who put on several tournaments over the years while serving as Recreation Director. Scott Friedman, arguably the best player to have ever played the game, began his play on the very same courts. In fact, there will be a ceremony to honor the late Syd Kronenthal and Scott Friedman on June 27.  

Aside from the noted players above, different groups regularly play at various times throughout the week and weekends. Typically, there’s a Monday, Wednesday, Friday group that plays from 8 to 10:30 a.m.  There is also a Tuesday and Thursday evening group that’s plays from 7 to 10 p.m., and on weekends there is play from 8 a.m. to the early afternoon. 

Barring any injuries, like tennis, one can play for many years.  At age 83, Will Manus has been playing for decades, and plans to play for as long as he can.  As a Los Angeles playwright. he plays on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Will, who is well liked and respected by many, holds his own against players that are sometimes half his age. Will says that as a former athlete, it’s something that keeps him active and healthy.  

Venice Beach is considered to be the Mecca of the sport where most tournaments are played. Though many of the sports best players play there, for many, the cliquish vibe and the parking is an issue and deterrent. Aside from the camaraderie that exists between the Culver City players, the ability to drive up and park only a few feet from the courts is a nice convenience. Additionally, unlike Venice, there are lights that permit play to go until 10 p.m. 

The slogan of those who play together stay together definitely applies to many of the couples who frequent these courts. Mike Cohen and his wife Denise are one of many couples who routinely pair up for some intense yet fun sets. They’ve both played for many years before their union and have continued since tying the knot.  Though there are some players who like to play singles, it’s the artistry and strategy of doubles that is most popular during the peak playing periods. 

Another unique aspect of this paddle tennis community is their willingness to play with just about anyone who shows an interest in the sport. If you are new to the game, there are those in the group that actually give lessons and can assist you in purchasing paddles.  If you have a tennis background, it’s a nice alternative as well as a great workout. But one should know that like many have discovered, the sport is addicting but not a bad addiction to have.