It’s 9:30 a.m. Tuesday morning, a time you normally would find Jennifer Ziance teaching English to freshmen at Thunderbird High, with a class of juniors due in at 10.
But few things are normal in these days of the coronavirus pandemic, which is why I find Ziance on a tennis court, not a classroom, on Tuesday morning.
She is taking a break from working at home, turning the computer over to her 10-year-old daughter, and participating in a tennis aerobics class at Paseo Racquet club in Glendale.
“It’s a different world,” she says.
To see how people are using sports and other recreation to cope with that different world, I visited a handful of different venues Tuesday, including the tennis club, a mountain park with hiking trails and a handful of golf courses.
All were in the general area of my Glendale home. I didn’t witness a handshake, a high five or a chest bump, but I did see a lot of social distancing and a considerable number of smiles.
The Prudhomme family has leased the Paseo Racquet Club from the City of Glendale for 27 years. Ed is the director of tennis and club manager and teaches. His brothers Brian and Greg are certified pros and teach. Their father, Allen, and mother, Viola, are often there, working, too.
It’s one of the few tennis centers that’s still open in the Valley, so the Prudhommes have seen an increase in players from other areas of the Valley.
“Every day when people leave, they tell me, ‘Thank you for being open,’” Ed says.
“We are good for mental therapy,” Allen says.
The last couple weeks have not been easy, however.
Despite the influx of new players, revenue at Paseo has decreased about 50 percent from a typical March, the Prudhommes say. That’s mostly because league play and tournaments have either been postponed or canceled because of the virus.
The city asked the Prudhommes about keeping the facility open, and the family responded with a long letter outlining the steps they had taken, from closing seating in the small bar, to the bottle of sanitizer Brian carries with him to lessons, to emphasizing to players to remain a safe distance from each other.
Doug Swank typically plays near his home in Sun City, but the tennis club there closed last week. So Tuesday he drove to Paseo at 63rd Avenue and Thunderbird, where a person can pay $4 in the morning to play pick-up games for a few hours.
The virus has changed nearly everything about Swank’s daily routine, but he’s not staying inside all the time.
“Not in Arizona, not in March,” he says.
On one of the 19 courts, Brian is conducting the tennis aerobics class. He has five students, including Ziance and three other teachers. Last week, the class had 14 participants.
“I feel more nervous being at the grocery store than I do out here,” Brian says as he hits balls to the players. “Because everybody has got to eat, sick or not, but you’re not going to crawl out of bed to come out here to exercise.”
After class, Ziance plans to return home to help her daughter with some lessons, and then to do some of her own work.
She laughs off a lame joke about the challenges of teaching teenagers.
“I love them,” Ziance says of her students. “I miss them.”
Enjoying the wildflowers
On spring weekends, it’s common to see the parking lots full at Thunderbird Conservation Park. But it’s unusual on a Tuesday.
There are at least 100 cars in the lot off 59th Avenue and Pinnacle Peak Road, and there is a constant stream of people coming and going.
The temperature hovers in the mid-60s, and the wildflowers are starting to bloom. Unlike the pictures I’ve seen lately of people packing Valley trails, hikers here are widely spaced and and seem intent on keeping their distance from each other.
Dawn Laszlo, who is retired, meets up with a friend, Melissa Hilker, who is a substitute teacher and coach. Lately, they have tried to hike two or three times a week.
“It’s been boring,” Hilker says about staying at home so much. “There is only so much reading and Netflix you can do.”
A few minutes behind them on the hike are three friends who work together at a local Target.
Strangely, their daily schedules haven’t changed much. Melinda Schmidt continues to work the same number of hours and is taking nursing classes online from Grand Canyon University. Sarah Lane takes education classes when she’s not working at the front of the Target store.
They love working at Target, they say, but occasional drives and hikes are good for their mental health. Especially for Sarah, since she sees more customers than her friends, who work in other departments.
“I see the panic on everyone’s faces all day long,” he says, “and also the irritation and the frustration of everyone else panicking.”
“Sarah came home the other day, tossed the keys on the ground and was like, ‘I’m done,’” Melinda says.
Because of coronavirus, spring training ended early. Trips to Arizona were canceled. Winter visitors left.
Despite all that, business at our local golf courses hasn’t fallen off a cliff. At least that’s what I gathered from visiting three courses on Tuesday and talking to Greg Leicht, director of golf for the City of Phoenix Parks and Recreation.
“Our winter visitor dynamic changed a little bit,” he says, “but the golf courses are still very busy. Probably on the days it’s not raining, we’re busier this year than last year.”
The reason for that seems simple.
“Folks are looking for something enjoyable to do, and to be outside when they do it,” he says.
That is the case with Darcie Brady, who was about to play BellAir Golf Course in north Phoenix with her brother, son and niece.
“It’s just a matter of finding enough things to do that isn’t a video game or watching TV,” says Brady, who lives in Peoria. “This is a great activity.”
Golf is among the outdoor activities deemed as an essential business and operation. At most courses, carts are being sanitized, ball washers removed and players are advised not to remove flagsticks or rake bunkers.
Golf seems like a safe activity, Brady says, because “you’re separated, it’s a foursome at most with family and friends, people you’re already close with. And you’re outdoors and the sun is a good disinfectant.”
But she does have a large container of disinfectant wipes stuffed in her bag. You know, just in case.