By Mike Renzella
The Haldimand Press
DUNNVILLE—For the Brown family, whose roots lie in Dunnville, tennis is an essential part of life.
“My great-grandfather gave my mother a tennis racquet and said, ‘Go down the street and learn how to play, and if you learn how to play, learn how to win,” recalled Canadian tennis champion David Brown of his late mother Louise, who was also a Canadian tennis champion in her day.
Louise was just 14 when she got that racquet and she quickly found herself spending time at a pair of courts near the Dunnville High School. She met her husband Ross during this time and by the time high school had ended for the pair, World War II had broken out. Ross enlisted in the Royal Canadian Airforce along with his teammates on the Dunnville High School football team, and was sent to Manning Depot, an Air Force training facility on the grounds of the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto. Louise moved to Toronto with him, where she joined the Toronto Lawn Tennis Club.
“The key to success in tennis is aptitude, opportunity, and work ethic. She was, on a scale of one to 10, a 10 in all categories,” said David of his mother. “If she hadn’t met my dad, and if the war hadn’t broken out, she would have been club champion in Dunnville for 60 years.”
But fate came calling, and Louise found herself travelling the world, playing at events including the US Open, as well as racking up multiple wins at Canadian Masters tournaments. She would find herself captaining the first Canadian Federation Cup team in 1963, and she performed in an opening match at Wimbledon against legendary Australian player Margaret Court, all leading toward her induction as one of the inaugural members of the Canadian Tennis Hall of Fame.
Not to be outdone by Louise, David’s father Ross, who now lives in Florida, got involved in the sport as well, joining the Ontario Tennis Board in 1962 and serving as president from 1966 to 1970. On how his dad got started with tennis, David said, “Most of the young men were playing golf and there were no young ladies playing golf at the Dunnville Golf Club, so he went over and saw all these young ladies playing tennis and decided he had better learn how to play tennis.”
Then there’s David himself: “I was weaned on a tennis racquet. Mother would go down to the club to practice and I would tag along as an 11-year-old…. At the end of every day, she would always take me out for half an hour and hit with me. It became a family function. When she went to play a local tournament, she would use me as a warmup partner…. She saw the opportunity she could present, not just to myself, but to other kids in the area to develop their skills.”
David ended up with a scholarship to Indiana University, where he continued developing his skills, leading to an appearance in the Davis Cup and eventually winning nine national championships.
Despite the many paths the Brown family took over the years, they always came back to Dunnville: “It was a mecca for us.”
That close connection to Haldimand is at the heart of the Louise Brown & Ross Brown Juniors Tennis Program, a free program aimed at introducing local youths to the sport, with planned sites in Jarvis, Caledonia, and Dunnville. The program will be run in cooperation with Haldimand County and overseen by David alongside his wife Jody, also a national champ, and their children Justin and Kimberley.
“It’s an entry-level junior program this year, free of charge. No expense needed for the kids, with the intention of giving them recreational exposure to tennis with the ambition of identifying prospects for the future for training and certifying instructors in the program who will teach next summer at the three sites,” explained David.
The intent is for the program to become part of an inter-county league, where teams from each of the sites compete against each other or separate clubs.
“Louise Brown started on two open courts in Dunnville and became a Canadian champion. There’s somebody out there who can do the same thing. My staff will identify a scholarship candidate from this summer, and we will give them the opportunity,” said David.
He added, “There are a lot of very incredible young athletes all over the world, and all over the world means Haldimand County.”
David is incredibly proud of the program, calling it one of the top 10 projects of his lifetime: “At my age, I’m getting excited about doing something like this. It’s something my mom and dad would just be thrilled to see happen.”
He concluded, “I’d like to see the program continuing to honour my parents and their commitment to tennis.”
Registration is open, with limited spaces remaining. Visit the County website at haldimandcounty.ca to find more information.