What is Paddle Tennis?

Paddle tennis or platform tennis was invented in 1928 in Scardale, New York. It is played mostly by doubles on a 30′ x 60′ heated aluminum court which is surrounded by a 12′ screen to help keep the ball in play and from losing it altogether. The rules of platform tennis are similar to regular tennis with a few exceptions. The ball may be played off the screen and only a single serve is allowed with a let serve being considered legal. Scoring is the same, but the equipment made from materials better suited for cold weather. The racquet is made from solid composite with air holes while the balls are sponge rubber.

A complete list of platform tennis rules is found on American Platform Tennis Association website.

 

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The History of Platform Tennis

The follow is an except from “Of Colonists and Commuters: A History of Scarsdale” First Edition by Diana Reische, published by the Junior League of Scarsdale, 1976. 76-12049.

paddle_championships_1976

The 1976 Men’s National Platform Tennis Championship at Fox Meadow Tennis Club, Scarsdale, NY.

Tennis season was over, and October was cold and wet that year. It was too muddy for badminton or volleyball or golf. Two Edgemont neighbors, grumbling about being indoors, decided to do something about it. And so in October, 1928, they invented a game that is today one of the fastest-growing sports in America – platform tennis.

Fessenden S. Blanchard and James K. Cogswell were looking for a sport that would get them outdoors for vigorous winter exercise. Hiking didn’t appeal, and skiing required traveling. The had tried deck tennis in a driveway, but delivery wagons too often interrupted their game. Their solution: build a wooden platform on Cogswell’s land. That would solve the mud problem, at least. The shape of the land determined the size of the platform, 20′ x 48′. Any wider and it would bump into rock, and longer and it would hang out over a ledge.

Cogswell and Blanchard tried various games on the platform – volleyball, badminton, deck tennis. Badminton didn’t work well on the windy deck, and deck tennis wasn’t interesting enough. Cogswell was still determined to find a use for the platform, and one day in a sports shop he came upon equipment for a children’s playground game called paddle tennis. He brought home some spongy rubber balls and rectangular shaped paddles.

Playground paddle tennis was the brainchild of Rev. Frank Beal, an associate minister of Judson Memorial Church in New York City. He introduced the game, which he had invented at the age of 14 in Albion, Michigan, in his church gym. From the Judson Church gym the game had spread quickly to city streets and playgrounds.

Except for the wooden platform, Cogswell and Blanchard so far had nothing new as they played paddle. They had put up wire mesh backstops and sides to keep from losing the balls so often. They continued to tinker with possible new rules to make the game more fun for adults.

One day a hard-hit ball got stuck in the wire mesh. Blanchard yelled, “It’s still in play,” and ran around behind the fence to bang the ball loose. So was born – through the course not without arguments – a rule that made platform tennis a very different sport from the playground game. As in squash, in this new game players could play the ball off the back or side wiring if the ball had first bounced inside the official court. The rule made a real difference. Rallies were longer. The value of a hard-slamming stroke was reduced.

Neighbors began dropping by to play, and soon a group of about 25 couples were calling themselves the Old Army Athletes (OAA). Cogswell’s house was on Old Army Road, so named because much of the Patriot army marched up the road to the Battle of White Plains.

“Drop by for tea after paddle,” became a ritual at the Cogswells, and the OAA’s evolved into a high-spirited group that had terrific parties. Writer Frederick Lewis Allen sometimes contributed poetry or skits for special occasions.

The group played no matter what the weather. Spectators huddled in blankets or fur coats, waiting a turn on the court. Everyone played – wives, children, even non-athletes.

In the early years the game was played both singles and doubles. But as time went on, doubles emerged as the more interesting game, and singles was dropped. Most of the rules were the same as those of lawn tennis. A major exception is the rule that only one serve is permitted.

One of the first paddle competitions was a “marital championship” staged in 1930 by the OAA’s. Sixteen teams entered. One point was charged against any husband or wife who criticized the way his or her spouse played.

Passersby may well have wondered what people were doing in that wire cage. But the cages began to spread. By 1933 there were nine private courts in Scarsdale.

Cogswell, in the meantime, had redesigned the first court in 1932 to perfect the game. He enlarged the platform to 30′ x 60′. Badminton dimensions seemed to make a better game than the paddle court dimensions, so the new platform court was drawn with 20′ x 44′ lines. New decks were laid in strips so snow and rain could be swept off. A special paint mixed with sand made a no-slip surface. The game was now practically all-weather, and began to spread, mainly to other Ivy League communities in Westchester and Connecticut.

Avid paddle players who belonged to the Fox Meadow Tennis Club began to pressure the club to build paddle courts. One persuasive argument in those Depression years was that many one-sport clubs were folding. Paddle tennis could make the club a year-round activity, supporters said. Fox Meadow built its first courts in 1931.*

*Although the game was invented in Edgemont and the first home courts were there, Scarsdale can also rightfully claim to be the birthplace since the first club court was built at the Fox Meadow Tennis Club, the first exhibitions were held here, the game gained in popularity here, and the American Platform Tennis Association operated for decades out of a Scarsdale office.

An exhibition tournament between Edgemont players and Scarsdale teams was held in November, 1931, to introduce the game. Perhaps not surprisingly, Edgemont won handily. The wining doubles team was Fessenden Blanchard ad Earle Gatchell, and the winning singles player was James Cogswell.

Blanchard began to give more and more time to promoting the game. In 1934, he helped found the American Platform Tennis Association, of which he was the first president and secretary. The three chartered clubs were Fox Meadow, Manursing Island Club in Rye, and the Field Club in Greenwich. Headquarters of the APTA was at Fox Meadow until very recently.

For many years Blanchard wrote articles for magazines explaining the new sport. He seemed always to be available to answer letters about it or give interviews promoting it. He wrote the first book on the subject in 1945.

The two games – playground paddle tennis and platform tennis – met in Scarsdale in the winter of 1936. Paddle’s inventor, the Reverend Frank Beal, brought to Scarsdale the top New York City girl’s team to play the Scarsdale girls champions. The Scarsdale girls, Ruth Blanchard and Dodo Cogswell (daughters of the inventors) won in both singles and doubles.

Since its birth in Edgemont a half century ago platform tennis has reached even parts of the country where regular tennis can be played outdoors year round. It remains mainly popular, however, in the North, where cold winters close down outdoor tennis courts.

By 1974 there were 3,000 platform courts in the U.S. In 39 states. The APTA had 92 member clubs. The men’s national championships, generally held on the nine Fox Meadow courts, draw large crowds. Courts have been built in 10 countries – including one at the U.S. Embassy in the U.S.S.R.

Some old-time paddle players felt a tinge of sorrow in 1974 when the game for the first time “went professional.” The first officially sanctioned tournament for money was played in Cleveland. The backyard game seemed to have tiptoed into the big time.