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Bag tags are the currency of ALTA

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ALTA bag tags

When you’re an ALTA member, the best email you can get from your captain is: Congratulations, team! We took the division! You know that means a bag tag and the opportunity to play for a championship trophy. Plates are nice, but ALTA bling on your tennis bag tells the world you’re a competitor.

As important as they are nowadays, they weren’t always part of ALTA’s culture. ALTA dates to 1934, when it was founded to promote tournament play and the development of junior tennis. The tournaments drew some of the best players in the South, but there were local club players who wanted more. So, in 1971, President Charlie Cox expanded ALTA’s focus to include league play, which gave recreational tennis players in Atlanta more time on the court. Not even Cox dreamed how successful this idea would be 46 years later. Today, more than 70,000 ALTA members vie for bag tags in multiple leagues all year long.

It was still the early days of league play, 1982 to be exact, when the bag tag was born. Jan Muehlhauser, who was secretary for the Executive Committee that year, remembers well how they came into being.

“The tournament director wanted a new trophy, so we started discussing what it should look like,” Muehlhauser said. Some committee members lamented that they didn’t care because they would never get one anyway. “That led to the discussion that champions got trophies, but division winners got nothing,” she said.

And so the conversation began. What if there were some token for division winners? What would that look like?

“Some suggested bumper stickers, pen sets, ribbons, those sorts of things,” Muehlhauser said. She had a bag tag on her golf bag at the time. She added that idea to the mix of suggestions. “Some really wanted the bumper sticker,” she said, “but others pointed out: What if they’re children and they don’t have cars?”

The committee voted to pursue the tag idea and found out they were affordable.

“We spent several meetings discussing what they’d look like and what would be on them. We decided all division winners would get them,” Muehlhauser said.

Her recollection is that although the 1982 Executive Committee created the tradition, the first bag tag was not available until 1983. That recollection is supported by the fact that a 1983 tag is the oldest one in the ALTA archives.

She thinks the tournament director that year probably got to choose the color. Now that’s a perk of being president, or more accurately the first vice president (who ascends to president) since bag tags are ordered a year ahead. (Fun fact: 32,000 are ordered each year.)

“It never occurred to us it would be so popular,” Muehlhauser said. “When people talk about them, I want to say, ‘Hey, I want to take credit for that.’ I was always proud of our Executive Committee because we were the ones who came up with it.”

Over the years, bag tags have been created to acknowledge accomplishments other than winning the division, such as volunteer service, good sportsmanship, Junior Challenge Ladder participation and winning City Finals.

“We didn’t envision that City Finals winners would also want a bag tag,” said Muehlhauser. “I always find it thrilling to see people walking around with all those tags.”