“Cooper was a cockapoo—a small dog with an enormous spirit,” says Howard Miller, DVM, medical director, VCA Eagle Rock Animal Hospital in West Orange, New Jersey, who along with his wife Ruth and their three daughters loved and nurtured Cooper through his 13 incredible years. “Cooper played with tennis balls, slept with them and carried them wherever he went, begging us all the time to play ball with him. When he was 10 years old, I heard a heart murmur, and surgery was the only way to save him. But in October 2019, Cooper lost his battle with heart disease while awaiting mitral valve repair surgery.”
In addition to his heartbroken family, Cooper also left behind all those tennis balls. “Our family could not have loved him more,” says Ruth. "So we looked into what we do could with his tennis-ball collection that would result in a positive outcome—we wanted to turn our heartache into something positive and uplifting.”
Inspiration for Cooper’s Court
Ruth and Dr. Miller learned that a tennis ball takes 400 years to decompose, and that the U.S. is responsible for dumping 125 million balls into landfills each year, 325 million worldwide. Typically, tennis players use new balls each time they play, so discarded tennis balls is a significant problem. On the brighter side, they also discovered that there’s technology that can remove the yellow fuzz from the balls and then grind down the rubber into a raw material that serves as the base for new tennis courts, which also lessens the impact on players’ joints compared to traditional hard courts.
“We learned that it takes 10,000 balls to make the base of one court,” explains Ruth. “That’s when we started a collection—and the idea was born that we could create a tennis court in Cooper’s honor, naming it ‘Cooper’s Court.’ Our mission: Saving the earth one tennis ball at a time.”
Ruth contacted ACE Surfaces, a Florida-based construction company that builds tennis and recreational surfaces. The owner, Franz Fasold, agreed to help them achieve the goal of honoring Cooper.
So, the Millers officially launched Cooper's Court in March of 2020, and established its first ball-collection at Center Court in Chatham, New Jersey. Recycle Balls is a Vermont-based nonprofit that developed the technology to recycle the balls. It also provides collection boxes that hold 200 balls. When full, the boxes ship back to Vermont for recycling.
“Soon after we began, things shut down because of COVID-19,” says Ruth. “While the club was closed for several months, the collection eventually resumed operation. During the summer months, we set up more collection stations in other area clubs. As tennis players learned about the environmental impact of discarded tennis balls, they stepped up to the challenge. Plus, an article in a local paper increased awareness and we received donations from local residents, as well as used balls from a local high school tennis team.”
The Miller family’s goal of collecting 10,000 was happening. In the winter of 2021, the family launched an Instagram account with pictures of Cooper and their collection efforts. By February, the family celebrated more than 10,000 balls collected. And as of April 2021 it reached 15,600 balls.
“Now we’re working on the next 10,000 balls after completing our initial goal,” says Dr. Miller. “I want to continue doing this. We’ve had others reach out to us to help, some Florida clubs as well. High schools, universities and clubs are great places to collect tennis balls—and veterinary clinics. I’d love to have collection boxes in our VCA hospitals.”
Start a tennis ball collection in honor of Cooper
Once the first Cooper’s Court is built, future endeavors include help funding mitral valve repair surgery, as well as continued support of environmental causes.
It’s so easy to start your tennis-ball collection in honor of Cooper. To learn how to get started, email [email protected] for donation instructions, visit cooperscourt.com and follow @cooperscourt on Instagram.
“The Millers officially launched Cooper's Court in March of 2020, and established its first ball-collection at Center Court in Chatham, New Jersey. They have collected 15,600 balls to date.”