06 Mar Episode #323: Benj Ecker, General Manager, College Park Athletic Club
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Pete Moore: This is Pete Moore on HALO Talks NYC on location Dallas, Texas, with my new best friend from Illinois Benji Ecker tennis enthusiast, head of the college park athletic clubs by way of Jeff van Dixhorn. Welcome to halo talks.
Benj Ecker: Thank you, Pete. Glad to be here.
Pete Moore: Awesome. So we met a couple weeks ago when I’m become a, a tennis junkie and visited your location. It was packed. It looks like people were very happy. You know, tennis has obviously picked up steam over the last 12 to 18 months, like a lot of other racket sports and, you know, COVID friendly activities. So when don’t we first start out with your background, how you got into the industry and we’ll kind of riff from there.
Benj Ecker: Yeah, man, I was an athlete as a kid into all sorts of sports. Did a little bit of everything, baseball, basketball tennis, soccer I, I was a terrible baseball player, but if I got on base, I was the kind of kid that would steal second.
Pete Moore: I couldn’t get a curve ball. So after eighth grade I was like, I need big rock. That’s why I started playing tennis, bigger racket.
Benj Ecker: But my dad was my dad was a coach too. Oh, he, he taught high school math and coached high school, basketball and tennis. So had the sports in the blood. How was that kind of basketball
Pete Moore: For your how’d that go? So
Benj Ecker: I didn’t, I didn’t play for my dad in high school. He wasn’t my high school coach. He had gone on to start a business by then, but yeah, it was good. Tennis kind of, you know, I’m in that now, but I only played that as a kid in high school, I was, I was soccer, basketball, and then track and field was my, my main thing. That’s what I did in college too. Okay. I was a hurdler.
Pete Moore: Oh
Benj Ecker: Really? Yeah. One of my crazy ones.
Pete Moore: Nice. I love watching those on the Olympics. I’m like, wow. That’s not easy. Yeah.
Benj Ecker: Yeah, exactly. So I, I took a weird route to get where I am. I think I told you a little bit about that before, but
Pete Moore: Yeah. Tell us about the, the, the religious and the spiritual side and kind of morphing that, you know, running a, a large health operation. Right.
Benj Ecker: So I went to, to north
Pete Moore: Path, right? Yeah,
Benj Ecker: Exactly right. Prescribed north park university is where I went to undergrad. After I finished, I went to Sweden lived in Stockholm, Sweden for a year. Oh, wow. Worked at an international church there. So it was like 40 different nationalities coming together. A lot of immigrant population there interesting experience. I thought maybe I would want to go into that line of work, came away from that going, not for me. Went out to the west coast for a few years, kind of bounced around odd jobs, lived with some college roommates, actually
Pete Moore: The complete opposite of the Swedish experience, obviously it’s like
Benj Ecker: And then got, can kind of pulled back into the church world a little bit applied for a scholarship at a seminary back in Chicago, got that and, and moved back to Chicago into grad school. There spent seven years at a small church in Western Michigan. Wow. before kind of deciding to blow up life again and moved to Chicago. I, these
Pete Moore: Are all just chapters not blow up. So just like, Hey, this chapter ended, I got a roll. Yeah. I’m coming back.
Benj Ecker: It’s like chapters of about seven years at a time, but exactly
Pete Moore: I got the, I got the seven year itch. I’m Benji and now here’s what I’m landing that’s
Benj Ecker: That’s about. Right. so I came back to Chicago and reconnected with an old classmate of mine. Brian w he was running college park at the time he was running this tennis club. I had no inkling of, of wanting to be in the business world, let alone work at a tennis club. I wasn’t a tennis player, but he said, Hey, come work for me until you figure out what’s next. And I never left. I I’d
Pete Moore: Love the good friend. Love the community
Benj Ecker: Me there. Yeah.
Pete Moore: So you crash from my couch or I’ll give you a job at my
Benj Ecker: Club. That’s for both. Well, and that’s obviously I met Jeff Vandort there. He’s the owner of that club really grew to appreciate his leadership generosity and see, okay, this is a place where I can dig in. They threw everything at me. I kept saying yes and found myself in Brian’s seat. A couple years later when he made a move to club automation. So here I am.
Pete Moore: Awesome. So, you know, over the last couple years, obviously a big change in the industry, a lot more people actually going and, and playing tennis, I think is, you know, between golf and tennis, probably like the two most recreational sports that kind of picked up, you know you know, usership or whatever you want to call it. How did you think about that? When, you know, you got a membership base, they want to be safe. You got a lot of new people coming in, you got to deal with all sorts of restrictions. What do you think about tennis as a sport? You know, a lot of people have taken tennis courts from ’em into pickle ball courts, you know, what, what do you kind of, what have you seen over the last couple years and, you know, give us a little bit of insight into how the, how the club works and how you think about it.
Benj Ecker: Yeah. rack sports are, are on the move right now. People, I mean, you mentioned pickle ball. People are flocking to pickle ball right now. And that’s, that’s something we’re, we’re looking at right now. And, but tennis too. Tennis is on the rise. Pickle ball might be eating into that a little bit with some older adults, paddle tennis too. Super popular, a lot of fun. You play it outside in the wintertime, but a lot out of people picked up a tennis racket for the first time or the first time in a decade in COVID. Cause that was one of the few things you could do was a socially distant sport.