A two-time regional champion and state runner-up, Shirley Yates Turner was an accomplished tennis player during her era at Fort Worth Paschal High School in the late 1960s.
In 2014, though, one can clearly see that she believes her greatest tennis triumph is a public-private partnership wrapped in a Christmas box topped with a bow.
On Saturday, Paschal, the oldest secondary institution in the city and the Fort Worth school district’s only Class 6A school, dedicates its new, high-quality purple and green tennis courts, a gift to Turner from her husband, Wes, the former publisher of the Star-Telegram. The ceremony starts at 10:30 a.m. Saturday in the girls gymnasium.
The formal dedication will be at 11 a.m. with, no doubt, more surprises.
“It was the best Christmas present ever,” said Shirley Turner, who received the gift at Christmas 2012. “It was a complete surprise.”
The ceremony coincides with the 45th reunion of Turner’s class of 1969. Paschal’s tennis players and physical education students have been using the new courts since the beginning of last school year.
“It’s really fun for me that they’re having the dedication now because I get to relive the excitement of it all over again.”
The five refurbished courts are on the same site where Shirley Turner played from 1965-69. They had reached a state of disrepair over the years because of age, neglect and school district budget limitations.
Like the school’s nearby football field, it had become unsafe to play on the worn and cracked surfaces.
New courts, Turner said, will give so many more students the opportunity to play the game she fell in love with as an 11-year-old Alice Carlson student and the game that facilitated so many other life lessons.
Her accomplishments on the tennis courts include more than 200 tournament championships, including singles and doubles championships at the Cotton Bowl, Texas Open and the Fort Worth Championships.
She held a top-five ranking in singles and doubles in Texas from 1963-70.
“Tennis is an expensive sport,” said Turner, who represented the state in nationals in 1965. “I want everybody to feel like they can play here and not feel like they have to go somewhere else to play.
“That allows them to play with so much more variety of people. And it will encourage more people to play.”
The donation of the courts was an extension of the Paschal Legacy Project, a campaign to raise money from private individuals and foundations to make needed upgrades to the school, which opened in 1885 and has been located on the current site at Forest Park since 1955.
The Turners’ donation also included wind screens that cover the chain-link high fence that surrounds the court and upkeep over a number of years.
A grassroots campaign with hundreds of donors has raised close to $3 million, said Page Doby, a board member of the project and parent of Paschal students. Money raised has been used to install a new football field and track surrounding it.
The campaign is not all about sports, Doby said. Projects to support the arts are on the to-do list. Board members just found that the sports facilities were the biggest immediate need.
Doby said it’s the board’s hope that Paschal can be an exemplar of the necessary private-public partnerships essential for public schools to thrive under today’s budgetary constraints.
“Shirley is very passionate about tennis,” Doby said. “I approached Wes and asked if they’d like to do this and he said, ‘I would love to do it in honor of Shirley. It’d be the greatest gift I could give her.’ ”
Shirley oversaw much of the work, though she credited Doby with seeing it through.
The upgrades have made a big difference for the tennis team, said Paschal coach Rhonda Psencik, who oversees a program of about 65 ninth- through 12th-grade players.
For the first time in more than 10 years, Paschal sent four players to the regional tournament.
“It gives a sense of pride for our school,” Psencik said. “The kids really … you saw a difference this year. They were proud to be playing at home.
“It’s safe for them to play on and have a good surface to practice and prepare.”
Having courts at school alleviates all sorts of logistical issues associated with having to bus players to playable courts. And tennis is now again a viable option for P.E. students.
“I have always believed it is important to give back to a sport that has given me so much,” Shirley Turner said. “Wes shares my philosophy of sports building strong character.
“I envision children spending many wonderful hours playing on these courts.”