Title:
Tennis ball collection, dispensing, and transport apparatus
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A tennis ball collection, dispensing, and transporting apparatus is disclosed. The apparatus includes a ball collection hopper for collecting tennis balls by a wheel-mounted sweeping apparatus. The ball collection hopper includes a forward facing opening for receiving tennis balls collected by the sweeping apparatus, for directing tennis balls over a one-way deflection panel and into the interior of the ball collection hopper. The deflection panel prevents collected tennis balls from accessing the sweeping apparatus and jamming the collection device during use, as well as retaining collected tennis balls during transport on and off the tennis court, as well as for securing the balls within the hopper when being dispensed.



Inventors:
Mendoza, Lloyd (West Hills, CA, US)
Application Number:
10/955511
Publication Date:
03/30/2006
Filing Date:
09/30/2004
Primary Class:
International Classes:
A63B69/38
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
GREENHUT, CHARLES N
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
Lloyd Mendoza (West Hills, CA, US)
Claims:
What I claim is:

1. A transportable game practice aid device for collecting a plurality of game balls from a ground surface, said device comprising: a hopper for retaining and storing said collected game balls, said hopper having a top wall, a bottom wall, and a plurality of side walls supporting said top wall to said bottom wall; a cover removably attached to said ball dispensing port at said top wall, said cover being selectively transitioned between an open position during a ball dispensing mode, and a closed position to secure the contents of the hopper; a pair of ground engaging wheels supported by a central web, said wheels having inner surfaces, said wheels positioned parallel to said ground surface for supporting transport of the game practice aid device about the ground surface; a support bail extending from a central axis of at least one said wheel, the support bail mounted to enable rotation of at least one said wheel thereto, and a directing handle supported by and extending from the support bail, the hopper being secured at a connection point to the support bail; said central web including a plurality of vanes arrayed about a longitudinal axis, adjacent pairs of vanes and inner opposing sides of said wheels defining a generally rectangular ball entry having a first edge parallel to and proximate said ground surface in said ball collection mode during rotation of the wheel when in moving contact with said balls during collection; a ball dispensing port provided in said hopper having an opening shaped and dimensioned to allow insertion of said player's hand and manual removal of said game balls; and said handle being collapsible for rendering the device in a compact, transportable package to secure the device in a closed position to secure contents supported therein during transport and storage.

2. The device recited in claim 1, further comprising a pair of support bail arms extending from both wheels.

3. The device recited in claim 1, wherein the rotatable shaft supports three outwardly extending vanes.

4. The device recited in claim 3, comprising a selected number of vanes extending outwardly from a longitudinal axis of the web, said number based on the outer diameter of the game balls to be collected by the device.

5. The device recited in claim 4, wherein the vanes extend to about the outer circumference of the supporting wheels.

6. The device recited in claim 5, wherein the game balls captured by the vanes during rotation of the wheels are delivered to an entry port provided in the hopper.

7. The device recited in claim 6, comprising an upraised lip provided adjacent the entry port of the hopper over which collected balls are rolled by urging action during ball collection.

8. The device recited in claim 7, wherein the upraised lip is integrally formed with a floor of the hopper.

9. The device recited in claim 3, wherein the vanes and wheels are provided in an integral unit.

10. The device recited in claim 1, further comprising a holder for supporting the directing handle when detached from the support bail.

11. The device recited in claim 1, further comprising a support wheel supporting a bottom wall of the hopper above the ground surface.

12. The device recited in claim 1, further comprising a carrying handle provided on a side wall of the hopper.

13. The device recited in claim 1, further comprising a tripod mount secured to the underside of the device for raising the device to an elevation.

14. A transportable game practice aid device for collecting a plurality of game balls from a ground surface, said device comprising: a hopper having a top wall, a bottom wall, and a plurality of side walls supporting said top wall to said bottom wall; a cover removably attached to said ball dispensing port at said top wall for providing access to the contents therein; a pair of ground engaging wheels supported by a central web, said wheels having inner surfaces and outer surfaces, said wheels positioned parallel to said ground surface for supporting transport of the game practice aid device about the ground surface; a support bail extending from a central axis of the wheels, the support bail mounted to enable rotation of the wheels, and a directing handle supported by and extending from the support bail, the hopper being secured at a connection point to the support bail; and said central web including a plurality of vanes arrayed about a longitudinal axis, adjacent pairs of vanes and inner opposing sides of said wheels defining a generally rectangular ball entry having a first edge parallel to and proximate said ground surface in said ball collection mode during rotation of the wheel when in moving contact with said balls during ball collection.

15. The device recited in claim 14, further comprising a ball dispensing port provided in said hopper having an opening shaped and dimensioned to allow insertion of said player's hand and manual removal of said game balls.

16. The device recited in claim 14, wherein said handle is collapsible for rendering the device in a compact, transportable package to secure the device in a closed position to secure contents supported therein during transport and storage.

17. The device recited in claim 14, wherein the rotatable shaft supports three outwardly extending vanes.

18. The device recited in claim 17, comprising a selected number of vanes extending outwardly from a longitudinal axis of the web, said number based on the outer diameter of the game balls to be collected by the device.

19. The device recited in claim 14, wherein the vanes and wheels are provided in an integral unit.

20. The device recited in claim 14, further including an upraised lip provided adjacent the entry port of the hopper over which collected balls are rolled by urging action during ball collection.

Description:

CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS

not applicable

STATEMENT RE: FEDERALLY SPONSORED RESEARCH/DEVELOPMENT:

not applicable

REFERENCE TO MICROFICHE APPENDIX

not applicable

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

1. Field of the Invention

The present invention relates to the field of sports equipment and more particularly, to apparatus for collecting, dispensing, and transporting tennis balls.

2. Description of the Related Art

Practice for the game of tennis is necessary to develop the skills required. However the game requires at least two players, and is often played by four players, and one or three practicing player(s) may not be available to join another player for practice. Practicing alone on a regulation court can be accomplished, but one must be able to have immediately available a desired number of tennis balls and be able to retrieve these balls or the practice primarily turns into an exercise in obtaining and retrieving tennis balls, rather than a practice session devoted to service and playing skills development.

As noted, retrieving tennis balls is an especially tedious, time consuming and unproductive task for a student or teacher or practicing player. One alternative is not to practice in a regulation tennis court, but rather, to practice against a wall with or without simulated net markings. This is not satisfactory to many players as it changes the character of the play in tennis ball practice service where placement strategy is of great importance, as well as tennis ball rebound characteristics that is completely unrelated to a tennis game played on a standard regulation court. Mechanical serving devices are also available, but again reloading the device and collection of balls is a time consuming process.

The primary objectives for a tennis ball collection and practice aid are (1) easily used collection device for quickly collecting tennis balls laying at random on the tennis court or other practice surface, that is (2) readily portable, (3) having a desired capacity for the storage of tennis balls collected by the device, and (4) includes a tennis ball collection hopper that is conveniently within reach for reaching the so-collected tennis balls. Moreover, the tennis ball collection and practice aid should be small so that it will not interfere with the practice and not overly obstruct the court. It should also be light weight, rugged in construction, pleasing in appearance and low in cost. When the practice aid is deployed in each of the three modes (collection, storage and dispensing), a minimum of effort to convert from one mode to another mode is also desirable.

Most of the current practice aids may do one of these objectives well, but others poorly or not at all. Ball hoppers conveniently provide access to dispense balls during practice, but many do not allow storage (covered) or transport. Others provide storage and access, but do not retrieve balls.

Ball storage devices also tends to be separate, typically in the can in which purchased. Transport to and from the storage location requires lifting. Larger storage devices accommodate many balls but are difficult to lift and transport.

Ball retrievers tend to be complex and cumbersome, limiting transport, access and use. Examples of ball collectors which do not function in the other modes and do not satisfy the other practice objectives include U.S. Pat. Nos. 2,484,437; 4,318,654; and 3,717,371. All of these devices only collect balls and all require separate hinged/rotating and/or fixed fingers/projections to lift and/or remove balls for placement into a receptacle. Many of these devices also tend to get caught by nets and fencing. Since these locations are likely places for balls to come to rest, this can be a major problem.

Prior art which attempts to accomplish all three of the primary objectives tend to be even more complex and cumbersome to lift, transport and use. U.S. Pat. No. 4,252,490 uses a spring loaded trapping mechanism, a non-rotating ball engaging surface mounted to a jointed frame which allows multiple positions, wheels and a handle. The handle also serves as one of the supports when the device is used to dispense balls, but fold out legs are also required. The cage is also separate from the structure which supports these folding, multi-position elements. In addition, the spring mechanism must be periodically actuated, i.e: the process is a batch type for each ball or group of balls, rather than a continuous process.

In another approach to achieving a multi-mode practice aid, U.S. Pat. No. 4,077,533 uses a rotating drum, belt driven by traction wheels and axle, removable extension members to support the device in the dispensing position, a removable ball receptacle, a frame, a means to adjust the frame, an arcuate ball guide, and handle. The handle can be folded out of the way of the player during the dispensing mode and a ball guide with wheels can be used for partial support in the dispensing mode.

These prior multi-mode approaches have many limitations. These are primarily related to the multiplicity of elements required to accomplish the three operating modes, creating added cost, weight and space. This multiplicity of elements, weight and space particularly detract from the storage and dispensing modes. In addition, they also tend to get caught by nets and fencing located within the court in the collecting mode of operation.

None of the prior art cited incorporates positive collection (balls retained in a container with covered openings or openings smaller than the ball diameter) to allow immediate transport and storage without the use of additional movable elements in addition to traction wheels and an axle. None allows conversion to a dispensing mode without additional structure. Further, all also tend to get caught when in contact with nets or fences when in the collecting mode.

OBJECTS AND SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

Accordingly, it is an object of the present invention to provide tennis ball collection and practice aid that overcomes the shortcomings of the related art.

It is another object of the present invention to provide a tennis ball collection device for quickly collecting tennis balls laying at random on the tennis court or other practice surface

It is a further object of the present invention to provide a readily portable tennis ball collection device that is easily transportable while securing a plurality of tennis balls collected therein.

It is yet another object of the present invention to provide a tennis ball collection device having a collection hopper that is conveniently within reach for reaching the so-collected tennis balls.

These and other objects are achieved, according to the present invention, with a ball collection hopper for collecting tennis balls deposited therein by a wheel-mounted sweeping apparatus supported by the rotatable axle to which a pair of forward apparatus wheels are mounted for rotation. The ball collection hopper includes a forward facing mouth or opening for receiving tennis balls collected by the sweeping apparatus, which directs tennis balls over a one-way deflection panel and into the interior of the ball collection hopper. The deflection panel prevents so-collected tennis balls from accessing the sweeping apparatus and jamming the collection device during use, as well as retaining collected tennis balls during transport on and off the tennis court. A hinged panel secures the upper portion of the collection hopper. During transport off the tennis court, the sweeping apparatus is rotated into a transport position and locked in place such that one of a plurality of sweeping vanes is locked adjacent the deflection panel, while the hinged panel is secured in a closed and locked position, together preventing unintended spillage of tennis balls even when the entire apparatus is upended as when the portable apparatus is carried about between practice sessions. The collection apparatus of the present invention is steered by a handle mounted to the collection apparatus which disassembles and in the disassembled form is housed in dedicated receptacles provided on the sides of the collection hopper. When the collector is intended for use in practice mode, the handles may be assembled to become supports for the collection hopper.

The above objects and description together with other objects and description of the invention, along with the various features of novelty which characterize the invention, are pointed out with particularity in the claims annexed to and forming a part of this disclosure. For a more complete understanding of the present invention, its performance, structural and operating advantages and the specific objects attained by its uses, reference shall be made to the accompanying drawings and description in which there are presented exemplary preferred embodiments of the invention.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 is a perspective view of the tennis ball collector, dispenser, and transporter apparatus of the present invention, showing the apparatus in the fully assembled position for collecting tennis balls randomly distributed on a tennis court.

FIG. 2 is a side elevational view of the tennis ball collector, dispenser, and transporter apparatus shown in FIG. 1.

FIG. 3 is a rear view of the tennis ball collector shown in FIG. 1, showing additional elements of the inventive apparatus.

FIG. 4 is a cross-sectional view of the sweeper mechanism shown in FIG. 2, taken along line 4-4 of FIG. 2, showing the sweeper locking apparatus.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS

Referring now to the drawings wherein like numerals designate like and corresponding parts throughout the several views, and according to a first embodiment of the present invention, FIG. 1 shows a perspective view of the preferred embodiment of the tennis ball collector, dispenser, and transporter 10 of the present invention, hereinafter referred to as “collector”. The collector 10 is sized and configured to receive a plurality of tennis balls 12 (or other game balls having a generally spherical shape for which the collector is sized, shaped and configured to receive as the skilled artisan will appreciate) randomly placed on a surface 14, such as the playing surface of a tennis court or other sport court, practice court, or the like. Collector 10 includes a sweeper apparatus 16 for sweeping the balls into a ball collector hopper 18. The collector 10 is manipulated at least during ball sweeping/collection by a compound handle 20.

Sweeper apparatus 16 includes a pair of opposing support wheels 22 having a traction rim 24 comprised of a non-marking, non-abrasive material approved for use on tennis courts and sports courts having an engineered playing surface. The wheels 22 are supported for rotation by a web 26 (with an optional axle-not shown) comprised of a plurality of angularly-offset ball sweeper collection vanes 28. The web 26 and wheels 22 assembly may be fabricated in an integrated unitary structure, or provided in separate components for subsequent assembly. Although FIG. 2 shows three vanes 28 spaced apart at 120 angles, it will be apparent to the skilled artisan that a greater or lesser number of vanes 28 may be employed depending on the size, texture and compressibility of the balls 12 for which the collector 12 is intended to collect. Further, each vane has a radial depth of about seven inches measured from the axis of rotation of the wheels 22 to approximately the traction rim 24, and that dimension is likewise amenable to change as required or desired. No matter the radial depth and quantity of ball sweeper collection vanes 28, the vanes will be cooperatively engaged with upper edge 30 of the receiving mouth 32 of ball collection hopper 18, and leading edge 34 of deflector plate 36 located at the lower portion of receiving mouth 32 of hopper 18, in the manner to be more fully described below.

Again with referral to FIG. 2, ball collection hopper 18 has a self-supporting housing structure 40 having a top side 42, bottom side 44, side walls 46, and rear side 48. The bottom side 44 includes the leading edge 32 of deflector plate 36 as previously described, the deflector plate 36 having a front ramp 50 against which balls 12 are driven up and over into the ball receiving recess of the hopper 18. Upper edge 30 of the receiving mouth 32 is the forward edge of top side 42. A wheel or caster 52 is optionally provided on the bottom side 44 to provide support of the ball collection hopper 18, especially when carrying a load of tennis balls 12, thereby preventing scraping of the playing service 14 unlike other apparatus of the related art.

During use, tennis balls 12 are collected by a sweeping and rolling motion by a biasing pressure against ball collection vanes 28 when the collector 10 is operated in a forward motion, thereby driving the collected balls up and over the front ramp of the one-way deflector plate 36 and into the ball receiving recess of the hopper 18. The hopper 18 is configured with sufficient height and width to accommodate a quantity of so-collected balls 12, and retained against loss out of the top side 42 by a hinged panel 43 rotatable about a hinge 45 that can be latched into the opened position during dispensing as would occur during a practice session, or into a closed and locked position as during transport. Also, in the fully secured position, the collector 10 may be gripped for transport by handle 60. According to another embodiment of the invention, one or more of the wall portions of the hopper may be replaced with a frame supporting a flexible material such as netting, cloth, or plastic sheeting each of which may be provided with expandable panels for supporting a larger quantity of collected game balls. The optimum angle and height of deflector plate 36 for a particular game ball application may be determined to meet particular needs, all intended to prevent rollback during collection operation yet not of such extreme dimension that relative slow operation of the collector prevents sufficient urging action of a collected ball over the deflector plate 36 into the hopper 18.

The collector 10 of the present invention is manipulated at least during ball sweeping/collection by a compound handle 20. Handle 20 is comprised of a lower portion 62 having rotational bearing units 64 for engaging with wheels 22. The lower portion 64 is removably engaged with and supports middle portion 66, which is removably engaged with and supports top handle portion 68. A spring-loaded engagement device 69 provided internal to the outer end of middle portion 66 is selectively engagable with recesses 70 provided along the length of top handle portion 68 to enable the user of the collector 10 to tailor the exact overall height of the handle assembly 62,66,68 to place the top handle portion 68 at the optimal height so selected. During transport, the handle assembly is readily disassembled into its constituent portions 62, 66, 68 to be received in comporting longitudinal cavities 72, 74 provided in side holster 76 supported by either or both side walls 46. Further, to secure the web 26 against rotation during periods of non-use and to securely contain the contents of the hopper 18, a removable pin 80 having shaft 81 is removably projected into recess 82 provided in wheel 22 and through overlapping recess 84 provided in a side wall 46 to lock the wheel 22 against unintended rotation. The pin 80 may be provided with a tether to secure it to the apparatus for reuse.

A tripod mount or other support structure may be used either in separate form or integrally formed with the underside of the collector to bring the hopper to a raised, and therefor more comfortable access height.

While the preferred embodiment of the invention has been shown and described, changes and modifications may be made therein within the scope of the appended claims without departing from the spirit and scope of this invention.