Battle Creek's Chris Clark growing game of tennis as CEO of new business - Toss and Spin

·4 min read
A 2004 graduate of Battle Creek Central, who later went to play tennis at the University of Toledo, Chris Clark is now the founder of CEO of Toss and Spin - a tennis company in Chicago.
A 2004 graduate of Battle Creek Central, who later went to play tennis at the University of Toledo, Chris Clark is now the founder of CEO of Toss and Spin - a tennis company in Chicago.

The world is in the middle of a pandemic. You have been furloughed from your job and it's the summer time.

What do you do?

Tennis, anyone?

That was the question Battle Creek's Chris Clark asked himself and anyone who would listen in July of 2020 as he had the idea for a business centered around the sport that had been part of his entire life.

Clark is the founder, and now the CEO, of Toss and Spin, a business focused, according to his website, on "establishing a racket experience while removing societal barriers that prohibit individuals from participating ... and giving access to as many people as possible."

"I found that there were a lot of people that wanted to play a racket sport, but because of the pandemic back then, they didn't want to go to the club anymore," Clark said. "So we took it outside and to the parks, providing amazing programming for everyday people that wanted to get into tennis."

Clark is a 2004 graduate of Battle Creek Central, who went on to play tennis at the Division I level at the University of Toledo.

That experience has led him to a thriving business based in Chicago that started out with 50 players in March of 2021 and grew to 800 active participants across nine city parks. It has also led him to make plans to expand to other metro areas, possibly bringing his concept to places such as Baltimore and Atlanta in the near future.

A 2004 graduate of Battle Creek Central, who later went to play tennis at the University of Toledo, Chris Clark, center, is now the founder of CEO of Toss and Spin - a tennis company in Chicago.
A 2004 graduate of Battle Creek Central, who later went to play tennis at the University of Toledo, Chris Clark, center, is now the founder of CEO of Toss and Spin - a tennis company in Chicago.

"It all happened really fast," Clark said. "We weren't necessarily thinking we were going to scale up that quickly. I knew we had something good, but didn't know it would grow like it did. It was a lot of work to keep up with it, but we were able to make it work."

The business model had Clark reaching out to park districts in the Chicago area, focused on tennis courts that weren't getting a lot of use, and asking to rent that space. He then creates the Toss and Spin classes and he gets players of all ages who are interested in learning tennis and other racket sports, like pickle ball.

It is vastly removed from what Clark was doing when he first came up with the idea in 2020, then deeply involved in corporate America before being furloughed. When he graduated from college, he worked for Gatorade and then later Kraft. But getting back to tennis was a dream come true.

"I have been involved with the game since I was 9 and for me to be able to make a career out of tennis is something special and exciting," Clark said.

The roots of Toss and Spin came from experiences in his hometown. Clark was an all-league and All-City performer at Battle Creek Central, good enough to get recruited to play tennis at the college level, but he also took time to give back to the community.

Through a grant by the Kellogg Foundation and working with New Level Sports, Clark spent a summer providing tennis programs for the underserved youth in Battle Creek.

"He is doing something he loves to do," said his father, Leon Clark, who still lives in Battle Creek. "Starting back when he ran that clinic in Battle Creek, where he bought rackets for the kids, gave free lessons for 25 or so kids, he has always wanted to give back and provide a tennis environment that isn't in the market currently. He has been in corporate America and saw what that was like, but now I think he's back enjoying what he loves, doing something involving tennis.

"It's a new concept around teaching tennis on a much larger scale and, more importantly, making it fun. And that's why USTA is interested in partnering with him with that going forward."

Teaching tennis, along with running a business, Clark has found he has to wear many hats, but he said the entire experience has been rewarding and looks to have a bright future.

"Everything with Toss and Spin, I tried to do the right way, filing the name, getting the rights to the name, creating the website, really investing into the business," Clark said in an interview by the United States Tennis Association in a story about young entrepreneurs looking to grow the game. "It took awhile to get that stuff up and running and it's still evolving as we speak. ... Just being there to service the community and giving back because the game has given me so much.

"I'm super proud of this idea that we brainstormed 18 months ago that is now, what I would consider, a thriving business."

Bill Broderick can be reached at bbroderi@battlecreekenquirer.com. Follow him on Twitter: @billbroderick.

This article originally appeared on Battle Creek Enquirer: Battle Creek's Clark growing game of tennis as CEO of Toss and Spin