The sport of tennis connected Lilly Giles to her grandfather, who she never met. When she learned the Championship Court was to be named in his honor at Southern Arkansas University, she said she burst into tears.
SAU dedicated its newly-renovated tennis courts on Tuesday, August 28, 2018. Dr. Trey Berry, SAU president, christened the facility as the Live Oaks Tennis Courts and the Oliver M. Clegg Championship Court. A large crowd, including tennis alumni and supporters of the University, attended the ceremony. Magnolia attorney Carolyn Clegg, whose father was Oliver M. Clegg, attended along with her husband, Roger Giles, vice president for administration and general counsel at SAU.
The championship court was named in honor of Oliver M. Clegg, who graduated from Magnolia High School and received his degree from Magnolia A&M (now SAU) in 1938. He went on to earn his law degree from the University of Arkansas in 1941. After serving in the U.S. Army, he returned to Magnolia in 1946 to practice law and raise his family. His father was a Methodist minister, and although they moved every three or four years during his career, Magnolia and SAU were always home to Clegg. He was so honored to be recognized as an SAU Distinguished Alumnus in 1992. He learned to play tennis on a grass court at his uncle’s house in Forest, Mississippi, and, for him, tennis became a lifelong passion.
He considered tennis to be a sport for life, with no boundaries of age or gender, and was still playing singles and doubles well into his seventies. His granddaughter, Lilly Giles, a senior Agricultural Business major at SAU, learned to play tennis on the SAU tennis courts while attending a summer Community Education program sponsored by the University when she was eight years old. From that beginning, she went on to letter in tennis all four years while playing for Magnolia High School.
She recalled that discovering her grandfather’s tennis rackets in a closet inspired her to play at an early age. “He had passed away before I was born,” she said. “I never got to know him, but tennis was a way I could connect with him.”
It means a lot to me, to know he played here, and now these courts are named for him. My dad’s been here ever since I can remember – everyone in Overstreet remembers me doing cartwheels down the hall. It means a great deal to me.
She said her father would often play with Oliver on the SAU courts. “I saw those rackets and just wanted to play – I thought it was the coolest thing on Earth.”
She said that she got very emotional when she learned of the court dedication in her grandfather’s honor. “It means a lot to me, to know he played here, and now these courts are named for him. My dad’s been here ever since I can remember – everyone in Overstreet remembers me doing cartwheels down the hall. It means a great deal to me.”
Giles played on the SAU courts in summer “until I was too old to come out here [with my father during the summer months] anymore,” but continued playing tennis through high school. “I remember being out on those courts,” she said, looking out across the Championship Court named for Oliver Clegg. “It is magnificent to see how completely they’ve turned around.”
Steve Browning, SAU director of athletics, and Greg Owen, the new head coach of men’s and women’s tennis, also spoke at the ceremony held at the revitalized sports complex located adjacent to and behind the W.T. Watson Center and the Aquatic Center.
Berry said SAU has renewed its tennis program with the hiring of Owen and the active recruitment of new student players. “We have a great group of men and women here that are excited and ready to put the necessary work in for us to be successful,” Owen said. “Expectations for both teams are very high, but our focus will be on taking care of each day and our improvement.”
Berry praised the SAU Athletic Department, Student Affairs, the Division of Advancement, and others for leading the charge on updating and resurfacing the existing tennis courts, which had fallen into disrepair. The renovation comes in two phases, with the first completed phase including an eight-court layout, new black vinyl fencing, new netting and sidewalks, and LED lighting. Fund-raising efforts are already underway for Phase Two, which will include a tennis locker room and coach’s office facility.
Expectations for both teams are very high, but our focus will be on taking care of each day and our improvement.
The tennis program joins the 12 Mulerider Athletic sports programs, which compete in the NCAA Division II Great American Conference. Browning said SAU remains dedicated to elevating the success of Mulerider Athletics, and that tennis will contribute to that goal.
Berry said he had listened carefully to the student body, alumni, and staff members who voiced a desire to have a renovated tennis complex and renewed tennis program on campus. Now Lilly and other current and future tennis enthusiasts will be able to enjoy the Live Oaks Tennis Courts at SAU.
The complex will be open for campus and community play during the following hours:
- 7:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. Monday – Friday
- 6:30 p.m. – Midnight Monday – Friday
- 7:00 a.m. – Midnight Saturday – Sunday
Times are subject to change, and SAU events take priority in scheduling.
Tennis has a long history at SAU with a combined 15 conference championships and over 100 all-conference players between the men’s and women’s programs. The men’s team sat atop the Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference (AIC) in the 1980s with seven conference titles. The program also captured consecutive District 17 crowns in 1988 and 1989.
The women’s program was a perennial contender in the Arkansas Women’s Intercollegiate Sports Association (AWISA) with a team championship in 1968 and a runner-up finish in 1973. The program earned a singles championship in 1973 and doubles titles in 1969 and 1973. SAU last fielded a women’s tennis program in 2011-12.