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Educating stuff: Centre Court in the off-season

Centre Court covered and re-sown for the autumn
by Ben Swann
Tuesday 5 March 2013

The fifth instalment of 'Educating stuff,' the latest news from Wimbledon's Education Department, centres on Centre Court. 

Contrary to what the holding image of our website might have suggested over the last two months, we are not living in an eternal Narnia (Editor's note: the snow was unique!), the sun is out and there is now a real sense of spring in the air here at Wimbledon. 

This time of year is like the calm before the tennis storm that lords it over SW19 in the last week of June and the first week of July each year.  The air is almost sweet enough for a game of tennis but the courts bear witness to the truth that winter has only just put its feet up and so they languish sleepily around the grounds waiting for that magic day in May when they can once more dress up in all their finery of netting and white lines for the beginning of the grass court season.

With the gentle drone of the lawn mower starting to echo round the site once more the first flush of the Primary student visit arrives in earnest.  Last week the Education Department had a visit from Garfield Primary School who brought their youngest students with them, 49 five and six-year-olds, for their first introduction to Wimbledon.  For those that have never witnessed the grand sight that is the Primary visit in full flow, I can only describe it as a bit like observing a gaggle of inquisitive geese wandering around; curiously meandering, mildly cacophonous and all having a great deal of fun.  As the students were quite young and had little or no knowledge of tennis we split their visit into three parts.  The first part was a short session in the classroom using our handling collection of modern and vintage tennis equipment where they could dress up as players, see the difference between old and new rackets and generally have a great time learning about the magic of Wimbledon, the second was a short visit to the Museum to see how the tournament has grown up since the days of long skirts and corsets and thirdly we took them on a mini tour concluding with the jewel in our crown, Centre Court. 

Usually when taking a visitor into Centre Court very little has to be said about it; after all it is Centre Court.  However, when taking a five year old into the hallowed stadium of tennis you have to try a little harder, after all to the untrained eye it is just a building with lots of seats and a hole in the roof.  To bring the stadium to life we like to focus on the lesser known facts like, how much does the roof weigh in elephants? If those elephants had access to tennis balls how many could they throw into the stadium bowl before it was full up? Who sits on the child’s high chair on wheels? Usually questions like this throw up a flurry of excited reactions and laughter, which is as infectious for the old as it is the young.  There was however, one small lad who sat fixedly staring at the grass in front of him, that same grass that was bereft of lines, netting and all the accoutrements of a court in its prime. Once the chatter had died down he raised his hand and looked me straight in the eye.  “Are you sure this is the place they play tennis?” he asked.  This brought with it another round of laughter, but in all honesty, as I stood there looking at Centre Court through the fresh eyes of a five year old, I wasn’t so sure myself anymore.

Spring also heralds the return of the perennial Secondary PE student and the ‘Tennis & Technology’ tour.  For them Centre Court is a much easier place to imagine in its full pomp as Andy Murray and his Olympic triumph are as fresh in their minds as the memory of Serena waltzing to another Championships title.  For them Centre Court still takes the breath away, it is the cathedral of tennis.  So it came as a bit of a surprise when one of the students scanned the banks of seating in Centre Court and asked why we had a static pope mobile in the stands.  This is not something Centre Court is known for but on closer inspection it seemed the ‘static pope mobile’ was the temporary viewing platform that is Centre Court 360.  A brief explanation of what Centre court 360 is followed, but the spell had been broken and Centre Court could now only be viewed through the eyes of a teenager.

 Young or old, Centre court is a strange place in the off-season.

If you would like to know how many elephants are standing above your head, then book on one of our Education Tours.

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