A man's invention is helping turn old tennis balls into something new

It’s been more than 35 years since Ronald Reagan stated, during his first inaugural address, “Those who say that we’re in a time when there are no heroes, they just don’t know where to look.” We discovered heroes in every state, starting with the determined 69-year-old who won a match at an ITF Pro Circuit event earlier this year in the Alabama town of Pelham, and culminating with the coach who has overcome multiple sclerosis to build a winning program at the University of Wyoming. Their compelling stories of courage, perseverance and achievement demonstrate that the message delivered by our 40th President rings as true today as it did then.

“Hey, what can I do with these? I don’t want to throw them away.”

It was a question, and a lament, that Bill Dermody heard often at The Tennis Shop, his family-owned store in Madison, WI. Customers were talking about tennis balls, the indispensable cogs of the game with an all-too-brief lifespan. According to Dermody, 98 percent of tennis balls are thrown away because players simply don’t know what to do with them.

Today, Dermody has an answer to that question—recycle them. And for many communities, the process starts with the AD­­­_IN Bin, a circular-shaped vessel Dermody financed and produced as founder of Retour Tennis.

A man's invention is helping turn old tennis balls into something new

A man's invention is helping turn old tennis balls into something new

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Designed to hang on a fence surrounding a tennis court, the AD­­­IN Bin can hold up to 200 balls that have outlived their usefulness. Four Wisconsin communities—Waunakee, Fitchburg, Stevens Point and Madison—helped pioneer Retour’s recycling effort in 2014 by placing AD­­­IN Bins on their public courts and having their parks and recreation departments collect the balls.

“You can’t get every city to pick up one more thing,” says Dermody. “But if you give people a convenient option and make it compelling, they’ll do it.”

The response made Dermody realize that his vision had legs, as players embraced the environmentally-considerate concept. (Denver, Santa Monica and other cities soon followed suit.) The communities made the balls available to local humane societies, schools (for use on the bottoms of chairs) and senior-living facilities (for walkers).

But the majority of the balls were shipped to a consortium of organizations that facilitated the next steps of the recycling process. The old balls were crushed and then used to build new tennis courts, the first of which was constructed in Englewood Cliffs, NJ.

“Tennis clubs, for years, have faced the issue of what to do with their balls,” says Dermody. “But for this to have the effect on all [of] America, it has to happen on the public courts.”