‘Backyard Tennis Club’ backhanded by city

By Brandon Evans | Published Saturday, September 7, 2013

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A unique feature rises in the backyard of a home on Oak Hills Drive in Newark.

Five years ago, Roger Williams made an investment to the community when he built a first class tennis court in his backyard. Hidden from the street, he calls it the “Backyard Tennis Club.”

Backyard Tennis Brawl

BACKYARD TENNIS BRAWL – For several years Roger Williams has provided affordable tennis lessons to the community at “Backyard Tennis Club” behind his home in Newark. However, his club is under fire as the city has found it to be in violation of several ordinances. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

The property is landscaped like a botanical garden. It looks like a high-price country club. Climbing rose bushes grace one entire side of the fence surrounding the court. Blossoms in a variety of colors spill over the top. He spends several hours almost every day providing lessons to children and adults in the community.

“It’s taken me years to get to this,” Williams said. “And I had the blessing of the city when I opened it. It’s been my dream to bring tennis to this area, and it’s always been my passion.

“It’s helped give kids more confidence in themselves and more self-discipline.”

He’s taught or continued to teach a bulk of the players on the boys and girls varsity teams at Northwest High School.

“When we moved to our current home, which is right next door to the Williams’, over two years ago, our children were immediately invited to join Backyard Tennis Club and within weeks had new friends and had learned a new sport,” said Robert Thornell, a neighbor and former principal at Chisholm Trail Middle School. “Many students have enjoyed the benefits of exercise and learning a lifetime activity from Coach Roger.”

But a single complaint from one neighbor might cause the “Backyard Tennis Club” to come to a sudden halt.

On July 26, Williams received a cease and desist letter from the city attorney ordering him to shut down his Backyard Tennis Club.

“The tennis enterprise being operated at your residence violates the Customary Home Occupation Ordinance,” read the letter.

It states Williams is in violation of several ordinances, and if he does not shut down he will be open to prosecution.

“I was blown away,” Williams said. “I’ve been operating for five years, and then all of a sudden they say I’m not following city ordinance.”

“It’s in violation of nine or 10 city ordinances,” said city councilman Bob Wells, who also happens to be Mr. Williams’ neighbor.

He said the lights on the court violate lighting ordinances, the noise from lessons violate noise ordinances and several more from having a home occupation operating outside in a residential area.

“You can’t have an outside business in a residential area,” Wells said. “I don’t know what kind of compromise you can have on that.

“I don’t have a problem with him giving lessons in the community, but he should have set it up in a commercial area.”

It’s all come in the wake of Williams fighting a battle with prostate cancer.

“Throughout all the treatments making we weaker, I’ve still kept coaching the kids,” Williams said. “And now I’ve had to deal with this, too.”

Williams has asked if the city would grandfather him in.

Wells said the city can’t since those ordinances were in place years before the court was built.

The city can charge up to a maximum of $2,000 per day for each ordinance violation.

The city became involved after Well’s wife, Mary Ann Wells, informed the city secretary that Williams was in violation of several ordinances.

Williams said he thinks it’s an abuse of power for the Wells’ to use city resources to shut down his tennis club. Mr. Wells contends it’s not personal, but he’s only following city law.

“It’s not personal to me because I’m not the one that made the complaint,” Mr. Wells said. “I don’t have any dog in this fight other than it’s a nuisance.”

Wells recused himself from the vote when the council recently voted 3-0 to enforce any city ordinances regarding the Backyard Tennis Club. But several residents and other neighbors have risen their voices in support of the club.

“Prohibiting the Backyard Tennis Club would be a terrible blow to our community,” Thornell said. “It offers an affordable, fun activity to many.”

Williams stressed that he’s supported youth in the community in other ways as well. Last year he had a fundraiser at his tennis court for Newark’s Heart for Park program. The event raised $2,500, that went toward replacing dilapidated playground equipment that had been removed from Delora Doughty Royal Park.

The Backyard Tennis Club has also provided affordable lessons as well as free rackets and shoes to local children from low-income families that want to take lessons.

“There’s no other venue like this in the area that is offered to kids or adults,” Williams said.

And if a compromise can’t be made, there soon won’t be one at all.

8 Responses to “‘Backyard Tennis Club’ backhanded by city”

  1. says:

    This “fight” over the Backyard Tennis Club and the Wells’ has been going on for some time now. Mr. Wells stated that he “has no dog in this fight”, well then why would he need to recuse himself from the city council vote? It is because the one and only complaint was made by his wife. Mr. Williams has been nothing but fair in his compromise with the Wells’ and their personal complaints about the tennis court. I challenge anyone to drive out to the Backyard Tennis Club, and listen for the “noise” that comes off the court, maybe someone needs to let Mrs. Wells know that its the outdoors, and maybe she needs to find other hobbies to occupy her time. This is a ridiculous situation and should NEVER have got to this point!

  2. How many places can you think of where your child has a safe positive environment to learn a sport they truly love from someone who is passionate about the sport? Roger Williams provides this environment for children interested in Tennis, either as a hobby or as a competitive sport. I whole heartedly support Roger and his endeavors in teaching tennis. My son loves the sport and has grown from playing at tennis to playing tennis both for Northwest High School and competing in USTA tournaments. As a family, we have all come to enjoy tennis as a sport and past time. Mr. and Mrs. Wells need to leave this Club alone and apologize to Roger and his students for being so hateful. How can anyone hate the sound of happy children playing, learning, and following a dream?

  3. J.R. Lopp says:

    My wife and I heard about Mr. Williams and contacted him about our daughter. She loves the game of Tennis. Mr. Williams brought her into his establishment and she loves the game even more today. Every week I see my daughter grow mentally, physically, and emotionally. She is stronger today than she was 6 months ago. Mr. Williams is a God Send. He truly cares about the Kids he coaches/educates. I will continue to pray for those who have problems with Mr. Williams. This is a good man who cares for our youth, not only with competitive Tennis, but with the principles of life. We all strive to make sure our children are provided with the right tools to succeed. My wife and I found Mr. Williams. Thank You Roger.

  4. We live 3 houses up from Roger and our son was the first person to have a lesson on these tennis courts. He used to play baseball, but hung up his bat and glove to give tennis a try. Because of Roger, our son played for Northwest High Schools Tennis Team and received the award of Most Improved Player his junior year. His Senior year, he was Team Captain and received the award of Most Valuable Player. He never would have accomplished this in baseball! I strongly believe that had it not been for Roger and his coaching, our son would not have succeeded to the level in which he did. Northwest High Schools Tennis teams were good until Byron Nelson High School opened. Here’s why..the best players on the team lived in Trophy Club and they had the country club and private lessons close to their homes to learn how to play tennis…other kids on this side of I-35 didn’t have any resources in which to excel in tennis until Roger. Now Northwest has a very good team with a lot of the players even champing up! Hey, some of the team has even beat some Southlake tennis players & they are ones that have taken lessons from Roger! The hypocrisy of this is that the “lady” who told me that Roger gave tennis lessons and was building a court in his yard to do it locally is one in the same that has started this mess. Love you Roger!

  5. K Blauser says:

    There are very few endeavors that are truly lifetime skills. Tennis is one of those. Taking the time to inspire and expose our community to the joys of personal achievement and commitment is what Mr. Williams’ program is all about. It is an opportunity that most other communities would be envious of. Unfortunately, rather than assess the benefit one resident has graciously offered to share with his community, the Newark City Council is focused on how the wife of one of their own comrades is put out by having to hear children laughing and enjoying hard work. Really? Is this what out tax dollars are funding these days? Let me ask you this, who was there first? I believe Mr. Williams AND his tennis court. Did Mr. & Mrs. Wells think it was just part of the landscaping? If the Wells family is so concerned about this “nuisance”, it should be put on the next public election ballot, so the entire community can voice it’s opinion, and not just the council’s less than impartial opinion.

  6. The good news is, Bob Wells and his cohorts on the city council have opened themselves up to some professional scrutiny with this little debacle. I heard that WFAA report resulted in some great information being supplied to some agencies who will finally look into what really goes on in sleepy little Newark.

    Maybe Bob can start by explaining why he is allowed to run a business out of HIS home, Kay-Wel 2 Corporation? The Texas Comptrollers office says that business has a street address of 534 Oak Hills Drive, Newark, TX 76071-3145. Any concerned citizen can look that up for themselves right on the Texas Comptroller’s page. What exactly does Kay-Wel 2 do, Bob? We know Mr. Williams provides a service that enriches the city of Newark and his community, does Kay-Wel 2 enrich anyone but yourself, Bob? Dun and Bradstreet says your company has annual revenues of $110,000, where does that money come from, Bob? If you’re running a home based business in this city I think we need to know you are in compliance with your own ordinances you selectively enforce.

    And did we ever get an update about the city’s income from those oil wells back in 2010, Bob? The citizen’s have a right to an accurate accounting of their finances. But since city employees have been instructed not to respond to lawful Freedom of Information Act requests, I don’t think that issue was ever resolved. We also need some information about the nature of the two lawsuits Robert Wells and the City of Newark were named as defendants in. What was the outcome of those cases? Were city funds used to pay a settlement?

    Don’t worry, there are agencies that are not intimidated by small town politics looking into this now. Didn’t think that tennis court was hiding a hornet’s nest, did you? What has been done in darkness all these years is about to be drug into the light.

    Get your popcorn ready.

  7. brandi hicks says:

    I have just moved to the community and love the idea that someone in taking the time and space to keep our children safe and provide a skill that they may not other wise have the opportunity to develope. Kudos to you Mr. Williams. My son has medical condition that will prevent him from playing contact sports and I think Tennis would be a great sport for him.

    Closing this court would be an injustice for the children that love the sport and are taking advantage of this great opportunity.

  8. says:

    My 10 year old decided to try in April so we went to the local school to hit a couple balls. A gentleman drove up and told me of a man that coaches his two sons for an extremely reasonable price. I took my daughter to the Back Yard Tennis Club and she immediatley fell in love with tennis and the teaching by Mr. williams (Coach). He teaches discpline and fundamentals of the game. By the price he is obviously not in this for profit! Purely for the love of children and the game!
    When I first drove up to the Back Yard Tennis Club it is beautiful and I thought what a wonderful city and neighborhood to have a child in.
    “Nuisance” Really Mr. Wells? Can’t see the court from the street or hear it! Ever heard a tennis ball bounce? You really have the improvement of Newark in your heart! You are truly a sad individual and a terrible representive of what is good for Newark! SELFISH!
    This could be a great story for your community but instead you label it a “Nuisance”? Who would wan’t a great Christian man teaching kids a great game and disipline in their community?
    For a world with so many things wrong in it right now, why would you dare disrupt something so pure with good intentions? Do You have a heart Mr. Wells? I will pray for you.


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