A rag-tag ring of racketeers has taken it upon itself to refurbish a decaying tennis court in McCarren Park after the city claimed it was too broke to fix it.
Members of McCarren Tennis, a year-old athletic club, took matters into their own racket-wielding hands after the Parks Department told them last year that it would not be able to refurbish the seven cracked courts — courts that weekend athletes pay $100 a year for the privilege of playing on.
After raising $4,500, seven members of McCarren Tennis smoothed out and painted one of the park’s N. 12th Street courts — the first such renovation that the parks’ decaying courts have received in nearly 30 years.
On the weekend of May 8–9, seven volunteers, led by founder Sean Hoess, put in 200 hours of labor scraping up the court’s exiting surface by hand before laying down asphalt with hand-held squeegees. After it dried, the volunteers applied two coats of sand and latex paint, taped off the court, and finally painted the chalk lines by hand.
The tennis players aren’t stopping there. The club will hold more fundraisers and more appeals to elected officials. When the money is there, Hoess wants to hire a professional crew to resurface the courts instead of his colleagues.
After the volunteers’ hard work, the city installed a new net.
The conditions on the other six courts remain pretty ugly. Many courts have multiple cracks, which can cause balls to fly in unexpected directions, giving a new meaning to the phrase “double fault.”
That’s not the worst of it.
On each court, the top layer has been worn down after years of use. The uneven surfaces are pockmarked with the remaining layer of asphalt, which wears down tennis balls and can be hard on players’ knees. Sand collects in the asphalt stone underneath, causing the surface to become slippery.
“I see a lot of people slide and fall. It is pretty dangerous,” said Hoess.
Last October, McCarren Tennis threw its first fundraiser, a 64-field tennis tournament and dance party on the courts, which brought in $2,500. At the time, the group explored the possibility of expanding its tennis courts to a neighboring concrete softball field, but that idea was quickly quashed and the players remain focused on fixing existing courts.
For now, tennis players are enjoying the smooth ride of a game on court seven.
“I played on it yesterday and it was a lot better on my knees and joints. It felt like a real park instead of a war zone,” said Hoess.
The Parks Department said that cost is the reason that the tennis courts are on the back-burner.
“A complete upgrade of the tennis courts would cost approximately $1 million and involve repairing the asphalt, upgrading the drainage, installing lights, and resizing the courts to meet USTA standards,” said an agency spokesman. “We’re very grateful that this organization worked with the Open Space Alliance to raise funds and hope that the one court that they were able to work on will encourage other funding sources to become available for additional work.”
The spokesman claimed that the agency remains committed to major improvements throughout McCarren Park.
“Capital projects over the past few years include a new skate park, lighting at the track, the redesign of the soccer field, and $50 million allocated to restore McCarren Pool,” he said.