Barbara Chandler might be Boise's greatest tennis advocate.
"Everybody can play tennis," she said. "They can play it forever."
She's living proof.
Chandler, who once ranked among the top women's players in the country, is 89 years old.
And she still plays.
"I have to put the word tennis in quotes because I don't run very well," she said.
Steve Bickham, the executive director of USTA-Idaho, credits Chandler with setting the groundwork for what has become an active tennis community in the Treasure Valley - one that is eager to embrace the Davis Cup as the U.S. meets Serbia beginning Friday at Taco Bell Arena.
Chandler taught tennis to schoolchildren in P.E. classes for 47 years, ran the high school state tournament for 52 years and pushed for a collaboration between the Boise School District and Boise Parks & Recreation that assured every high school and junior high had at least four tennis courts. That gave the city the 85 outdoor, public courts it has today.
"We use every one of those courts in our leagues," Bickham said. "Without those, we wouldn't be able to do what we do. That's been a huge boon."
USTA-Idaho, also known as the Idaho Tennis Association, has 4,500 members, including juniors. Those members combine for 6,000 entries each year in adult leagues that run from early spring to fall. That places the state among the nation's top 10 in participation by members, Bickham said.
"We've kind of made a mark on the USTA with that," he said. "That means each of those (adult) members is playing at least two, if not more, leagues throughout the year. It just shows that we don't have that many members, but the members we have do play a lot."
Bickham has been at USTA-Idaho for about 18 months. He has worked all over the country. The Boise area has more league players than San Diego, he said. "I've never seen the type of activity that I've seen here with adult leagues," he said. "It's kind of remarkable."
The tennis community - which includes high school programs and successful men's and women's teams at Boise State - gets a never-seen-before outlet for its passion this week with the arrival of the Davis Cup quarterfinal. Other than a semifinal or final, it's the biggest tennis event Boise could draw.
Todd Miller of Boise, a health insurance agent who plays at the Boise Racquet and Swim Club, said the "level of anticipation and excitement to a certain extent is over the top."
He and his friends have plans for lunch Friday before the first session and a dinner party Saturday evening after the second. There's even talk of some tailgating Saturday morning at the Boise State-BYU men's match (9:30 a.m., Appleton Tennis Center).
"If you were to go wander around the tennis facilities this weekend during the Davis Cup matches, there's going to be very few players around," Miller said. "If they can afford to be (at the matches), they're going to be there."
The hope among the area's tennis leaders is the Davis Cup will inspire more people to pick up rackets - or to return to the game after absences.
"I want to light the fire of the kids," said Boise State men's coach Greg Patton, who pushed for the Davis Cup visit. "I want them to smell it. I want them to taste it. I want them to embrace it. But the most important thing is to feel it. I want it to spread to where you see a tennis racket in every home - instead of seeing a gun rack, you see a rack for the tennis rackets."
That - in less-colorful terms - is a major emphasis of the USTA.
USTA-Idaho runs a Tennis Is Elementary program that introduces the sport to kids at about 50 area elementary schools. The program reached more than 1,000 children last year - filling the sign-up sheet at some schools within a couple days.
"There's a big push in U.S. tennis to fight childhood obesity," Bickham said. "We're hoping through this (Davis Cup) event more people will become aware of that. It's exciting. There's more people talking about tennis now than I've ever seen since I've been here."
On Tuesday night, kids were waiting outside the doors of CenturyLink Area when it opened for a clinic featuring members of the Boise State and U.S. Davis Cup teams. About 200-300 kids participated - one of the USTA's best turnouts for a Davis Cup clinic. The event ended with 10 kids pairing off with U.S. and Boise State team members to play doubles.
"If you talk to any former big-time professional - John McEnroe, Bjorn Borg - they'll tell you the reason they started playing tennis," Bickham said, "was because they were a ball kid at some event or met some pro when they were a kid and that got them so excited about the sport that they kept playing. And our kids have never had an experience like that. So hopefully this will get them really excited and get them out playing more."
The next step, Patton and Bickham agree, is to increase access to year-round play. The only indoor facilities in Boise are at private clubs and Boise State.
"The weather, that's the big bogeyman," Patton said. "There's a need for more indoor courts."
Then again, Chandler remembers when she moved to Boise in 1952 and found just six tennis courts - all clay, at Julia Davis Park. She had won a national clay court title and reached as high as No. 5 in the nation before moving from San Francisco.
She was in the room when local officials learned this Davis Cup tie was Boise-bound. And she'll be in the arena this weekend.
"Oh, you bet," she said. "Every day. It's just wonderful for Boise."
Chadd Cripe: 377-6398, Twitter: @IDS_BroncoBeat