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Cliff Pett stands proud as Paeroa Tennis & Squash Clubs longest standing member. Photo: DAVIDDA HIKATANGATA

Champ helps build club over 68 years

Cliff Pett may be Paeroa Tennis & Squash Club’s longest standing member, but when he joined in 1956, he knew nothing of the popular sport.
“I couldn’t even play tennis,” he said.
Now, after 68 years of playing tennis at the club, he’s been instrumental in helping build the club from the ground up.
“I’ve been here the longest, I’m not sure if I’m the oldest,” he said.
Cliff was just 17-years-old when he became a club member.
He was playing cricket at Thames High School before switching to tennis, and just “learnt from there”, he said.
Before joining the club, Cliff said there were some older guys playing tennis who were “a bit snobby”.
“I thought ‘to hang with this’, so I started [using] a door at my place at home in George St… I used to hit up against that,” he said.
“I didn’t know which hand to use because I’m left handed, but I throw right handed.”
Cliff said fellow club member and 14-time club champion ACE Williams told him to buy a book and he’d teach him how to play.
“Nothing like they play today,” Cliff said.
The grip was different, flicking the ball with the racket wasn’t allowed, and they didn’t know anything about a two-handed backhand, he said. “That’s the way it was back in ‘56 when I joined.”
A retired builder, Cliff said he first worked at the club when he was an apprentice for a local building firm, which worked on the clubrooms over many years.

“I got the job as foreman… we did all the upstairs [at the club]. Everything you see, I helped build,” he said.
Even now, he regularly turns up at the club with tools in hand to fix anything that needs attention.
Cliff went on to become club champion seven times, with his wife, Judith, and their three sons, Kevin, Steven and Ross, also having turns at holding club champion titles.
Kevin won the club championship three times, and Steven won five. “[Steven] was a very good player – even if he was here today, nobody would have beaten him,” Cliff said.
Ross was about 19 when he won the club champion title, he said.
“And my wife. She won.”
Cliff said Judith only recently found out about a championship win she had with a friend in the ladies doubles back in the 1960s. Back then, only Judith’s friend was informed of the win.
Cliff also gave squash a go after a squash court was built at the club in 1960, but as tennis players, they had their own style, he said.
“We didn’t need to go to the back wall much,” he said. “We played squash like we played tennis.”
When asked about the greatest thing he had learnt in his years of playing tennis, Cliff said it was “comradeship”.
“After you’ve finished playing, [you] just get on with the people so much – you make friends for life,” he said.