Photo of an umpire using a specially created chair at the 2021 Tennis in the Land event

Tennis in the Land: Interdisciplinary team creates custom umpire chairs at Sears think[box]

For the first time in the city’s history, women’s professional tennis is coming to Cleveland, and an interdisciplinary team at Case Western Reserve University is taking a front row seat—or rather, making a front row seat. The iconic tennis umpire chairs that are standing tall at center court of the inaugural 2021 Tennis in the Land event were created in Sears think[box], Case Western Reserve’s open-source makerspace. 

The tennis competition, part of the U.S. Open Series, is running Aug. 22-28. Case Western Reserve’s involvement began when Kyle Ross, the event’s tournament director, approached Todd Wojtkowski, the university’s head coach for men’s tennis, about working with Case School of Engineering to create custom umpire chairs. 

From there, the team began to grow. Daniel Lacks, associate dean of academics for the school, and the think[box] team recruited the right people for the job, turning to Thomas Vinci, an industrial design student at the Cleveland Institute of Art, to lead the effort. Vinci used the resources in Sears think[box] and partnered with staff members across Case Western Reserve and members of the management team responsible for the event. 

“The enthusiasm from across the Case Western Reserve community made this project possible,” said Lacks, crediting Wojkowski for bringing the project to their attention and Bradshaw for seeing it through. “Todd and Jason saw that this wide-ranging collaboration could lead to a whole that is much greater than the sum of the parts.”

As Vinci developed plans for the chairs, he gathered first-hand insight from a tennis umpire to determine how his design could address potential pain points—such as making them easier to climb, adding storage and allowing the umpires to sit back between matches. He then built the chairs using virtual reality technology before actually creating the physical pieces. 

“I utilized four floors of [think[box]] to make this,” said Vinci. “I was designing on the second floor and prototyping on the third floor. On the fourth floor, I started building it and eventually constructed the final version on the fifth floor.”

Misha Villanueva, think[box]’s fabrication floor manager, assisted Vinci with making the conceptual dream a reality, working with him to turn small models into full-scale, manufactured products. 

“At Case Western Reserve, we think it’s important to go beyond the classroom,” said Lacks. “You learn by doing real things. This is a great example.”

These unique umpire chairs will be utilized during the internationally televised sporting event at Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica in Flats West Bank. Learn more about Tennis in the Land.