First Serve New Mexico Academy and Forked Lightning Racquet Club will also have an adjoining 8,500 sq. ft. structure for First Serve classrooms and tennis locker rooms. First Serve New Mexico Founder and President Eleanor Brenner is working with Scott and Kimberley Sheffield on the project. The Sheffields acquired the 8.9-acre property a year ago from the Northern New Mexico Horseman’s Association, donated it to First Serve and are paying the full cost of the project.
First Serve New Mexico has served up after-school tutoring and tennis for Santa Fe students for nearly 20 years, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported.
All that time, founder and president Eleanor Brenner has had a dream to build a campus for the nonprofit, which has provided academic tutoring services in Santa Fe’s public schools, while also offering a tennis component at public courts scattered about town — or even in school gyms during the winter.
A chance meeting at a local tennis league between First Serve head tennis coach Nancy Keeran and Kimberley Sheffield in 2018 launched Brenner’s dream into the stratosphere and Santa Fe’s tennis community into a new trajectory, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported.
Four years after first talking about the project, Brenner and Scott and Kimberley Sheffield await Santa Fe County permits to start construction later this year on a $12 million, 12-court tennis complex, with an adjoining 8,500-square-foot structure for First Serve classrooms and tennis locker rooms, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported.
The complex will be built between the Santa Fe Rodeo Grounds and the Genoveva Chavez Community Center, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported. The Sheffields acquired the 8.9-acre property a year ago from the Northern New Mexico Horseman’s Association and donated it to First Serve.
The Sheffields, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported, are funding the full cost of the project that has two names: First Serve New Mexico Academy and Forked Lightning Racquet Club. The club is named after the ranch near Pecos that was once owned by oil man Buddy Fogelson and his wife, actress Greer Garson, and is now owned by the Sheffields.
The academy and private tennis club are expected to open 15 to 18 months after construction starts, Scott Sheffield said.
Forked Lightning Racquet Club would be larger than Santa Fe’s other tennis clubs, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported. El Gancho Fitness, Swim & Racquet Club has seven outdoor and two indoor courts; Santa Fe Tennis & Swim Club has four outdoor courts and one indoor one; The Club at Las Campanas has seven clay courts; and the recently closed and sold Shellaberger Tennis Center had six indoor courts and one outdoor stadium court.
Some of the dues paid by tennis club members will be used for First Serve academy operations, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported. The Sheffields and Brenner are also starting a fundraising campaign to build a $10 million endowment as a dedicated source of funding for First Serve, which charges nothing to tutor third to 12th graders.
The Sheffields see this project as a way to give a permanent home to First Serve and also add a top tennis center to the community, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported.
The center will have the acrylic-based hardcourt Plexicushion tennis surface used on the Association of Tennis Professionals and Women’s Tennis Association tours and notably at the Australian Open.
Six courts will be outdoors and six will be indoors under an inflatable dome provided by Yeadon Domes of Minneapolis, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported. Four pickleball courts also are planned with the potential for 12, given the soaring popularity of the game, Sheffield said.
There will be locker rooms, restrooms and a workout facility for members, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported. First Serve will get three classrooms — one for elementary, one for middle school, one for high school students — and restrooms for youths.
First Serve students will have after-school access to the courts from 3 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday; the private club members will have access for the other hours the center is open, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported.
Tennis is the focus of First Serve because Brenner and her late husband, Richard, or “The Duke,” were passionate tennis players, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported. Scott and Kimberly Sheffield and most of their five children and 11 grandchildren are tennis enthusiasts.
The Brenners paired tennis with after-school tutoring when they established the nonprofit for underserved Santa Fe school children in 2003, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported. The Brenners moved to Santa Fe in the late 1990s after decades in the fashion industry, he operating the women’s dress business Brenner Couture and later becoming an investment banker and she as a fashion designer.
“You can’t tell kids, ‘Would you like to come in and be tutored?’ ” Eleanor Brenner said. “We had to have something to excite kids to want to join. Tennis is not an expensive sport. Tennis was the hook to bring kids in.”
She visited after-school programs in New York, New Jersey, Florida, Texas and Chicago, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported. A visit to the House of the Good Shepherd domestic violence shelter for women and children in Chicago firmed up her vision for First Serve.
Brenner estimates more than 1,000 youths from Santa Fe Public Schools and, for a time, Pojoaque students, have passed through First Serve, about 30 percent staying for five to nine years, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported. Before the coronavirus pandemic, First Serve tutoring took place in six schools but that increased to 16 schools during the pandemic.
“You have to reach each child on an intellectual level, emotional level,” Brenner said. “You have to have that child not only good in academics but also feel great about themselves.”
Brenner was honored by Santa Fe Public Schools in 2018 with an Excellence in Student Achievement award, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported.
“The goal of First Serve is to help each child become the best they can be as an individual as well as be part of a peer group,” Brenner said. “I feel children are the future of the country and the future of the world. In the tiniest way I can do, I wanted my husband and me to help the children of Santa Fe.”
Scott Sheffield is a founder and CEO of Pioneer Natural Resources, established in 1997, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported. Pioneer is the largest oil producer on the Texas side of the Permian Basin, and Sheffield said it is the second-largest oil producer in Texas. Pioneer has nearly 2,000 employees and ranks among the Top 10 oil producers in the country, with one listing as high as No. 5.
“The Permian Basin is funding this,” he said wryly.
The Sheffields lived for many years in Midland, Texas — Kimberley’s mother is from Hobbs — before the company was moved to Dallas. The Sheffields bought a home in Santa Fe in 2003 and retired there in 2016, with Kimberley joining the boards of Creative Santa Fe and the Santa Fe Children’s Museum, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported.
Pioneer Natural Resources asked Scott Sheffield to return as CEO in 2019, and since then, they have lived in Santa Fe about a quarter of the year.
“I’m hoping to retire again soon,” Sheffield said.
When Kimberley Sheffield and First Serve’s Nancy Keeran encountered each other on a tennis court in 2018, Sheffield noticed the First Serve kids in action on the courts, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported. Sheffield had heard about First Serve, but seeing the kids inspired her to write a $5,000 check on the spot for First Serve.
“It was obvious,” Kimberley Sheffield said. “I don’t know. There was just a trigger. I just know there is always a need. It was a very successful program. They have great coaches. They play great together.”
Brenner said she was “stunned” by the donation.
“I don’t get checks like this from people I don’t know,” she said.
A few weeks later, she hosted a dinner with tennis players and U.S. Tennis Association officials and invited the Sheffields, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported.
Brenner said Scott Sheffield approached her and asked how much it would cost to fund her dream of a place with its own classrooms and tennis courts, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported. She consulted with USTA and came up with an estimate of $6 million. The Sheffields offered to pay half and Brenner would fundraise the other half.
Stymied by COVID-19 — “I can’t raise a dime,” Brenner said of that period — the Sheffields offered to pay for the entire project, even as costs rose, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported.
“We always believed Santa Fe needed a first-class tennis center,” Scott Sheffield said.
For Brenner, the location among the rodeo grounds, fairground and community center is ideal.
“It’s central for all schools,” she said.