Burns Park tennis facility back in city’s hands
North Little Rock has regained its ownership of the tennis center in Burns Park after the Arkansas Tennis Association’s 20-year lease ended last month.
Mayor Terry Hartwick said at the latest tournament the weekend of Sept. 15, the city made $8,600, which is more than it has received in the last five to six years under the association’s ownership.
“We’re probably going to push it to $10,000,” he added.
Hartwick explained that he went through financial reports from “many years ago” and found one or two checks from the association but noted that in the last 10 years, the city received nothing.
“In the first month, we’re going to make $10,000 that we never would’ve gotten,” he said.
The Arkansas Tennis Association can still host tournaments at the Burns Park courts for one year, but the new director and coach can also host their own.
Daniel Cornelison was appointed director of the tennis center and Thomas Andersson is his head coach. Cornelison is an elite professional through the U.S. Professional Tennis Association and a high-performance coach through the U.S. Professional Tennis Registry.
He has more than 20 years of coaching experience. From 2006 to 2018, he was the head coach at the Little Rock Racquet Club, and more recently, he was tennis director of the Hot Springs Country Club and taught private and group lessons.
“It felt like, I was definitely coming home,” Cornelison said of his new role. “Burns Park Tennis Center has always been a huge facility and it’s got some of the most potential, I believe, in the state. We should be able to produce some huge results between juniors and adults.”
He has had to make a shift from coaching 40 to 50 hours a week to being in meetings, but Cornelison said he enjoys it and everything will “get settled down” soon.
He praised the previous North Little Rock parks director, Randy Sandefur; Jason Rhodes, the parks superintendent; and the entire department team for providing the tennis center “everything we needed.”
Only a few repairs remain around the tennis courts after the March tornado. Fences have been replaced and the finishing touches for paint and roof repairs are underway, Cornelison added.
“We’ve been busy; the courts have been full ever since I got here,” he said. “We’ll be booked solid during primetime, 6 to 9 [p.m.] every night and I assume most weekends are going to be booked solid too.”
The center has progressive and performance academy programs for ages as early as 4 to 5 through 75.
“We’re working on getting a junior program started and solidifying all the pros,” Cornelison said.
Andersson and Cornelison are excited to work with the
“The goal is to keep the elite, but the goal with Burns Park is to make it available for a lot of kids, introduce it to schools; every single school is going to be introduced [to us].”
— Thomas Andersson, head coach of the tennis center in Burns Park
four other coaches on staff.
A military discount for veterans and those who serve is something the center is considering to provide an opportunity for “anyone who wants to play tennis,” Cornelison said.
Andersson is originally from Sweden and graduated from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. He went on to coach at the Little Rock Racquet Club and the Wake Forest Country Club in North Carolina.
“I was working with fairly high-level juniors, I would say,” he said. “We’ve had anything up to No. 1 in the nation, so it’s been a successful run.”
It’s a “new chapter” for the two, Andersson said, because he and Cornelison have never been in a position to rebuild a program and expand on it.
“With this location, no one is really coming [out],” Andersson explained. “We’ve got to create every single person that’s gonna step in this court, we’ve got to create. We’ve got to come and grab them and put them on the tennis court.”
For the last 20 years, the Burns Park Tennis Center has had a low number of competitive players, he added.
“The goal is to keep the elite, but the goal with Burns Park is to make it available for a lot of kids, introduce it to schools; every single school is going to be introduced [to us]. … If there’s an interest, we will make sure that money is not going to be an issue if someone can’t afford it.”
Andersson said that scholarships through locals who want to sponsor players will be available.
A total of 18 players represented the state at a recent tournament and placed in the top three of their age division.
What brings Cornelison and Andersson back to work every day is “tennis and kids.”
“Getting them [on] that level, seeing them actually work hard and achieve,” Cornelison said. “I mean, the difference is, tennis is an individual sport, so it shows you a pathway that you can use in every aspect of your life because if you achieve a high level of tennis, you did all the work.”
It’s a game that anyone can play and it’s a “lifetime” sport, he added.
“It doesn’t take a lot to play. It’s given us so much; we want to make sure that we give as much as we can back to tennis too and give kids new experiences,” Cornelison said.
Andersson said that it’s the “ultimate compliment” to have parents whom he coached as children put their own children through his program.
The center’s next home tournament is the Burns Park Fall Classic on Oct. 14.