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  • Writer's pictureTracy Rolling

A Look at Presidential Players

Updated: Feb 21, 2023

Historians might tell you that France invented tennis, however, modern-day tennis has become an American pastime. It’s also a beloved sport of past presidents including George H.W. Bush (1989-1993), Gerald Ford (1974-1977), Jimmy Carter (1977-1981), and Ronald Reagan (1981-1989).

Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909) installed the first tennis court on the White House grounds. It was positioned behind the West Wing. Commonly, he would play with the younger, more junior staff members. Subsequently, they became known as Roosevelt's "Tennis Cabinet".

In 1911, the court was moved by William Howard Taft (1909-1913). He expanded the West Wing and relocated the court to the South Lawn, where it remains today.

Warren G. Harding (1921-1923) and Herbert Hoover (1929-1933) both utilized the court. Although Pres. Hoover’s sport of choice was baseball, he played Hoover-ball which is a combination of tennis, volleyball, and medicine ball. Then White House physician, Adm. Joel T. Boone, invented the game to keep Hoover in shape.

John F. Kennedy (1961-1963) along with First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy was said to have played mixed doubles at the White House court, which has hosted numerous tournaments and fundraisers over the years.

First Lady, Nancy Reagan, hosted a celebrity tennis exhibition to raise money for the Reagan Drug Abuse Foundation. It wasn’t until Oct. 1990 that the Reagans meet young Venus and Serena Williams at a tennis camp in Florida. This monumental moment for the Williams sisters even made a cameo appearance in the movie King Richard.

Pres. Ford played tennis with his Chief of Staff Donald Rumsfeld. George H. W. Bush was a regular on the court. Among his opponents were White House aides, who utilized their time between points to gain his attention on less critical matters. And in 1989 Bush enlarged the court. He also hosted some friendly competitions including playing doubles with American tennis professional Pete Sampras in 1990 and with the president of South Korea, Roh Tae-woo, in 1991.

There were a couple of tragedies because of the court too. Calvin Coolidge Jr., the son of Pres. Coolidge (1923-1929) died at the age of 16 from blood poisoning. The teenager got a blister playing without socks in June 1924. Also, Bert Lance, Director of the Office of Management and Budget gave his resignation to Carter during a match. Lance had been accused of corruption.

In 2009, during Barack Obama’s (2009-2017) presidency, basketball lines were drawn, and hoops were added to the tennis court. At Obama’s 50th birthday, NBA legends such as LeBron James, Chris Paul, and Magic Johnson showcased their athleticism atop the court located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

More recently a new Tennis Pavilion was added to the White House grounds by First Lady, Melania Trump. Funded by private donations, the pavilion took 18 months to construct. Simultaneously the White House hard court received a facelift. Both were unveiled in Dec. 2020.

Tennis isn’t just a presidential perk, it’s available to all. Shop today and lead the way to a great American pastime!

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