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As controversy fades, new tennis director sets up shop

Roscoe Tanner says he and William Thomas, who many Westchase residents supported for the job, will act as a team.

By LOGAN D. MABE

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 14, 2000


WESTCHASE -- With the dust settled, Roscoe Tanner is easing into his new role as the head pro in a community that takes its tennis seriously.

"I like it. Westchase is beautiful," said Tanner, sitting courtside between lessons for an interview earlier this week. "Tampa is known nationally as a tennis spot. To have the opportunity to do something here is fantastic. I'm looking at relocating and living down here."

The Westchase Community Association hired Tanner Tennis America, Tanner's company, to run its adult tennis programs at the Swim and Tennis Center. Under the terms of his one-year contract, Tanner Tennis of America will operate tennis clinics for adults and offer private lessons. Tanner, ranked the No. 4 player in the world in 1979, will conduct many of the Westchase clinics, including several that started this week.

"In the long run, it'll be some of me and some of my staff," said Tanner, who has already set up nightly clinics Monday through Thursday for beginning, intermediate and advanced players. "For me, it's fun to get out and hit with people."

Getting the job wasn't all fun and games, though. Tanner's hiring came over the protests of hundreds of Westchase residents who supported William Thomas' Team Thomas programs, which he has been running for six years.

The community association decided to let Thomas continue offering children's tennis programs, but opted for Tanner as the adult instructor.

For Tanner, it was like walking into a hornet's nest. But he said he wants to make the transition as smooth as possible.

"The way I look at it, William and I are a team," Tanner said. "Between what he does and what I do, we may be able to put together one of the best programs anywhere. I don't have any problem with William. What we'll do is fit in and blend together."

When he's not giving lessons, Tanner is also pursuing other business ventures, including the creation of Tanner Tennis Villages in Atlanta and Knoxville, Tenn.

Tanner had one deal in Atlanta fall through, and business parter Pat Pohl said Tanner left town owing him money. But Tanner said that deal fell through because Pohl's financing on his tennis center prevented his investors from moving forward.

"It turned out it didn't fit our way of doing things," Tanner said. A Tanner Tennis Village at another Atlanta location is about two weeks from getting started, Tanner said. "It really wasn't like we abandoned anything. We just shifted it."

Tanner also declined to say much about his ongoing legal battle with a New Jersey woman who says he fathered a child with her. Facing a $500,000 child support bill, Tanner was arrested in 1997 for missing payments.

"It's a saga that's unbelievable, that's all I can say," Tanner said.

Although his contract is only for one year, Tanner said he might make Westchase his new home.

"I see it as long term," said Tanner, who occasionally plays on the Nuveen Tennis Tour for players over 35. "Westchase is a gigantic project. There's lots more to still be done here. I see this as being a place that could be a base of operations."

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-- To reach Logan D. Mabe, call 226-3464 or e-mail him at mabe@sptimes.com.

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