VIRGINIA — Around 17 years ago, Ely Lake resident George Erickson had a vision for an indoor tennis facility on the Iron Range.
Two years later, Erickson and a group of tennis lovers from around the area saw that vision come true when the Virginia Indoor Tennis and Pickleball Club (formerly Tennis-For-All) was completed.
Friday, the club will be renamed, in honor of Erickson and his contributions, to the George A. Erickson Tennis and Pickleball Center.
Spearheaded by Club Manager Dave “Gundy” Gunderson, Gunderson approached the Virginia City Council earlier this year to propose the name change, citing the dedication, time and money Erickson has put into the facility over the years.
“Without Goerge and his financial contributions and his work getting everyone together to do it, I don’t think we’d have a facility like this,” Gunderson said. “George has always loved tennis. When he and his wife moved back to the Range, he saw there was a lack of space in the area for indoor tennis so he started putting together a plan.”
Erickson said having the facility named in his honor 15 years later is exciting, but the greatest joy in all of this comes from those who have been able to use the facility since its inception.
“I’m very pleased with how far it’s come,” Erickson said. “For two years, my occupation was fundraising and writing grant proposals for the club. I’m pleased that they decided to honor me with my name on it but I’m also pleased that the facility has provided so much entertainment and fitness opportunities for so many people.”
Getting involved with tennis later in life when he lived away from the Iron Range, Erickson said the wheels started turning when he came back north and saw there was no place to play in the winter months.
“I’ve always thought that when you see a need and you can do something about it, then do it. Gundy helped me bring together a list of people that we thought would want to help bring indoor tennis to Virginia. We formed a committee to accomplish that goal and turned it into what it is now.”
Erickson initially pledged $60,000 to the creation of the facility but said that number grew to around $170,000, making him the second biggest contributor to the club outside of the City itself. Inside the clubhouse is a wall of contributors, honoring the individuals and groups that put their own money into the facility.
“It’s great there was an opportunity like that for people to help create this place. The big wooden panel on the wall with all of the names, it’s truly something special seeing so many people come together like that.”
Plans for the building initially slated just two courts to be built before that was scrapped for four so the building could host tournaments. That extra space was put in use this weekend when the Hibbing Invitational was moved to Virginia due to weather and play continued on like normal.
“There’s matches and tournaments going on all the time,” Gunderson said. “We’ve been getting calls this week to host college matches in January and February. It’s welcomed people into our community from all over and those people stay here, go out to eat and shop at our store. All of those things are good for our community.”
Erickson said the switch to four courts came at the suggestion of Gunderson.
“Gundy convinced me we should have four courts and we figured we’d have to try for it. Working with Gundy, you can’t find a nicer guy. I call him ‘Mr. Tennis.’ If there was ever a person who deserves to be recognized for the endless hours he’s put in, it’s him.”
Initially conceived as a tennis facility, the club has seen extensive use over recent years as a place for pickleball, a sport similar to tennis but played on a smaller surface. Even more recently, the facility has been used for indoor archery tournaments. All of these uses have shown to Erickson that the building provides more than just a place for tennis.
“You never know what’s coming next. We built it with tennis in mind. Then along came pickleball and it allowed us to serve an older community that can’t cover a court very well. We’ve had archery competitions here now too which ended up being an excellent use of the building. You could say the building is complete but something new like that always comes along.”
The dedication in Erickson’s name will be Friday prior to the Rock Ridge and Bemidji tennis match. The ceremony is expected to start around 3:30 or 3:45 according to Gunderson.
“We just wanted to recognize George and hopefully people in the community will want to come out and see it,” Gunderson said. “The tennis families around here know how special this is and how much much he’s done. It’s a way we can thank him for everything over the years.”