It wasn’t that long ago when passersby routinely saw a young boy not much bigger than his racquet hitting tennis balls with his father for hours on end at Southeast Portland’s Berkeley Park.

The boy grew into one of the greatest champions and sportsmen in Oregon high school history. And his love for tennis — not only for playing the game but also for who he played with or against — continued to grow until May 11 of this year, when 21-year-old Alex Rovello drowned in a cliff diving accident not far from Eugene, where he was starring for the University of Oregon.

Rovello’s memory lives on, especially in the vicinity of Berkeley Park, a few blocks from the family home.

The tributes to his life are focused on raising money to improve the two public courts where the undefeated, four-time state champion from Cleveland High honed his skills. The goal is to make the courts so playable that other young boys and girls can learn the game there with their fathers or mothers, aunts or uncles or other family and friends, and enjoy the sport that became Rovello’s passion.

Two events in September will honor Rovello and generate funds for this cause.

The Portland City Championships will be played Sept. 6 to 8 at three sites — the Portland Tennis Center, Grant Park and Gabriel Park.

Then, on Sept. 15, the public is invited to an afternoon of fun, tennis and remembrances at Berkeley Park, where his parents, Jim and Geri Rovello, will serve as hosts and raise both money and awareness for the fund in his name that will eventually pay for vast improvements.

About $50,000 already has been committed to the Alex Rovello Memorial Fund, through individual donations following his death.

To do all the work desired on the Berkeley courts — resurfacing them, trimming the overhanging trees, putting up new fencing, fixing the retaining wall, installing new nets and posts and benches, adding electricity for ball machines and other purposes, making the courts ADA-compliant, etc. — could require about $175,000.

“We’re making good progress,” says Mike Rosen, a family friend who is helping make this dream a reality. “I think it’s all been driven by the love for Alex.”

The Sept. 15 kickoff at Berkeley Park, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., will be the kind of event Rovello would have loved. It will be an informal gathering of friends, tennis officials and others who love the game, including his former coaches from the Eastmoreland area and U of O. Jim Rovello will serve as a disc jockey, playing music, and people can just mingle, or hit balls, with giveaways and other activities also in the mix.

“Ho loved to play,” says Ruth Turner, director of community tennis for the United States Tennis Association’s Pacific Northwest section. “But he wasn’t just about tennis. He was really adored, a breath of fresh air, salt of the earth, very mature and positive. I feel honored to assist in this any way I can.”

The Portland City Championships will be a unique event.

“There will be no entry fees — we will let everyone decide what they would like to donate, tax-deductible, to the memorial fund,” says Mike Stone, recreation coordinator for Portland Parks & Recreation. “There also will be no prizes, no rankings at stake — nothing. This is just for the enjoyment of tennis and in the memory of Alex.

“Everybody who knew him recognizes that it was a huge loss to our tennis community. I’ve been involved in tennis for 20-plus years, and we’ve seen a lot of junior players come and go. But what made Alex different was his attitude on the court and toward his opponents, his easygoing style, how pleasant he was to be around. He was unique, and he was certainly the best player to come out of Portland in a lot of years.”

Portland Parks has 105 outdoor courts, a number that is relatively low per capita, and “the courts around the city are not in great shape,” Stone says. “Other facilities also desperately need upgrading.”

The Portland Tennis Center, in Northeast Portland adjacent to Benson High, plans to convert four of its outdoor courts to indoor by next summer to help provide more year-round play opportunities and generate revenue that will go to helping refurbish outdoor courts around the city.

“Tennis in Portland is booming,” Stone says, “and our junior programs are full.”

For more information on the Berkeley Park renovation project, visit the new website,

Contributions may be made tax-deductible through the Commerce-Cleveland High School Alumni Association-Alex Rovello Memorial Fund (make checks out to CCHSAA-Alex Rovello Memorial Fund), or at any Wells Fargo Bank (not tax-deductible) or online (also not tax-deductible).

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