Sets in the City tennis club serves up a new social scene for athletic-minded North Texas lesbians


GAME, SET, MATCH | Marilyn Sherman, from left, founded Sets in the City as a social/sports outlet for lesbians, including her partner, Susie Oliver, Stephanie Keith and Lisa Johnson. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

sports logoSARAH DENISE MORGAN  | Contributing Writer

When Marilyn Sherman raised her racket last April to start a lesbian tennis group in Dallas, she had no idea she was serving up a hot new social club in the lesbian community.

Sherman, a tennis professional who has worked in Florida, Georgia and North Carolina, spent 15 years directing tennis for nine states as a national manager of the U.S. Tennis Association, setting up clubs for people interested in pursuing the courtly pastime.

“I like to create groups. I have a lifetime of seeing how tennis can truly change lives,” Sherman says. “I have people say that [playing] tennis is when they find their joy. It gives a person a chance [at] a mind-body-soul experience. It is actually a lifestyle — a major way you frame your life.”

This philosophy drove Sherman and her partner, Susie Oliver, to look around the Dallas lesbian and gay community for players. Oak Lawn Tennis Association, all male, seemed stacked with members at a high level of play; Sherman wanted to create a more social event-night for women of all skill levels, where women who had never picked up a racket — or even been athletic — would feel welcome alongside experts.

Within weeks of starting last April, the group grew by word of mouth; an average Friday night welcomes about 40 players of the 125 members. Ages range from 20 to 65. Activities range from drills to singles and doubles matches over four courts.

It has certainly been a welcome addition to the community for Louise Ritter. An Olympic gold medalist in the high jump, Ritter had never touched a tennis ball until Sets in the City came around.

I had such high expectations and it was intimidating to start but everyone rallied around me,” Ritter says. “I started embracing the group.  I haven’t been active since I retired, and this opened up a door. Physically and socially I know I’ll be in it for a lifetime.”

Sherman smiles whenever she hears such stories.

“Tennis changes lives,” she says. “I witness it before my eyes in ways I have never seen before because it is in my own community. I ran tennis for 100,000 people in the South, but it wasn’t for people in the lesbian community. It’s great to be able to do this within my own community.”

The format for each event is two hours of tennis followed by two hours of dinner and drinks at different locations. The Village Country Club at Greenville Avenue and Southwestern Boulevard has been the prime location for play, as members can simply walk over to the patio after a game.

“We found out so many women didn’t have a weekly social outlet because maybe they stopped going to the bars and here they found an event with people they would see regularly,” Sherman says. “Tennis was the draw and they had professional and personal things in common.”

P.J. Johnson, another newcomer, says she has been “amazed at the many friends who have embraced me as a person. These friendships came to fruition over the past several months and directly due to the connections made via Sets in the City.”

Sherman insists that while she’s serious about the sport, fun is the focus of the group.

“Fun on the courts looks like competition — they compete with each other whether it is in a match or in the drills,” she says. “A lot of our people are coming from other sports who love to be competitive and have found tennis is a great avenue. You may not be able to play soccer, softball or volleyball your whole life but you can play tennis and compete. It isn’t as hard on your body.”

No one has experienced that change more than Ginger Kamm.

“When I started in May, I wasn’t as confident, I didn’t really care about exercise and being mentally and physically fit as much as I do now,” she says. “My priorities have changed. I feel younger, too. I think I understand that having quality people in your life is important and can absolutely lead to a better life and relationships. I’ve lost a couple of [dress] sizes because now I am biking and exercising with team members outside of Friday nights. The team attracted very positive, healthy, good, caring people.“
For Sherman, that’s game, set and match.

The new season of Sets and the City kicks off April 5. For more information, email Weekly cost is $10.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 5, 2013.