By Peter Douglas

From the outside, it may’ve seemed like a run-of-the-mill funding announcement for a sporting facilities upgrade.

But, internally, the collaboration between Yarra Ranges Council and Casey MP Tony Smith has not only rescued the Lilydale Tennis Club, but injected new life into the sport of tennis within the Yarra Ranges.

Just a few years ago, the club was the victim of a fraud event, which left the club within one month of being de-registered and closing its doors.

However, the devoted committee dug in its heels and sought out help in the form of a visit to Mr Smith’s office.

The result, now just years later, is an eight-court facility that is now ready to host state-level tournaments, as well as an influx of players and members.

Club President Debbie Sadlier had been a junior convenor for nine years, before stepping up to take on the presidency when required.

She said the club now has a clear direction.

“The club had been brought to its knees and we were very close to being de-registered,” Ms Sadlier said.

“ … the club was sinking; what it’s done is it’s just lifted us up to a new realm where we have enthusiasm in the club and it’s spreading out into the greater community.

“The funds have really put life into our club. We have 250 members, with plenty of high-quality coaches who provide great experience for those wanting to learn and develop their skills.”

The club has been the beneficiary of around $40,000 in funds from the Stronger Communities Program, which is a result of collaboration between Yarra Ranges Council and the Federal Government.

The funds have helped to fund the resurfacing of two of the courts, with high-grade playing surfaces.

Ms Sadlier said, before the resurfacing, rabbits had been sneaking in through the gates and digging burrows underneath the old surfaces, which had been causing a few headaches for players.

Now, with eight high-grade surfaced courts, the club is now open to draw higher-level tournaments to the area.

On Wednesday 16 May, the club took up the opportunity to say thank you to the key drivers of the project, including Mr Smith, Yarra Ranges Mayor Len Cox, and special guest; Minister for Territories, Regional Development and Local Government, John McVeigh.

Many of the club’s coaches, stalwarts and members turned out to pay tribute.

Mr Smith said it was fantastic to see the Stronger Communities Program making such a difference, with widespread benefits to the community.

“To come back and see this done is truly special,” he said.

“This is really an illustration of what we’ve been able to do over so many places over the electorate; many times partnering directly with council.”

Mr Smith was also thrilled to announce a further round in the budget.

Meanwhile, Cr Cox praised the collaboration between the federal and local governments, while Mr McVeigh said the enthusiasm around the club was tangible.

“Projects like this, which really focus in the heart of the communities, are really important. It’s the same for me in my electorate of Groom in Queensland,” Mr McVeigh said.

“So it’s just fantastic to work with Tony and other colleagues on these valuable projects.”

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