'A Lot of Courts With Nobody There'
Maintenance, Player Instruction Pose Challenges
By Judith Havemann
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 17, 2004; Page DZ08
From the pristine Takoma courts at the northern tip of the city to the Congress Heights courts in the south; from Palisades in Northwest to the picturesque Anacostia courts in Southeast, many public tennis courts are in better shape than in decades.
But on recent sunny spring days, exactly six people were using the 20 combined courts at the four sites, and many more newly resurfaced courts across the city were entirely empty.
To be sure, a survey of the city's 247 public tennis courts was done on weekdays, when many tennis players are at work. It was also a time when schools were in session and children were unable to play.
Nonetheless, an aggressive tennis rehab program that has boosted nearly half of the D.C. courts into good or near-perfect shape has not produced a corresponding increase in tennis court use, according to tennis and recreation officials.
"As I drive around the city, I see a lot of courts with nobody there," said Rose Hobson, president of the Washington Tennis Association of the United States Tennis Association.
"Yes, I would have to agree that our courts are underutilized," said Drew Becher, associate director for operations at the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation.
Despite the success of tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams, who have won 10 Grand Slam titles between them and are the game's most popular players, tennis has not taken off among D.C. youth.
Some of the public courts in the best shape charge fees: those at Hains Point, Rock Creek Park at Carter Barron, and the Southeast Tennis and Learning Center. (The Southeast center charges fees only for adults.) But there are also free courts in good condition, such as Kenilworth-Parkside, Langdon, Arboretum and Douglass. Some of them are frequently empty.
As a result, recreation officials have already worked with a private non-tennis foundation to turn two courts in Shaw into a skateboard park. Several other courts across the city are used as fenced playgrounds for young children who are playing tag and other games.
"Tennis is a big priority," said Becher. But he noted that other cities have turned vacant courts into "dog-friendly parks" where animals can run free, or into skateboard sites.
"It really goes by the use," said Becher, referring to the future of the city's courts, "and what the community wants."
Right now, Becher said, the city has a schedule for renovating more tennis courts that are cracked or weedy. "Coming up shortly is Fort Lincoln, Marie Reed, Benning Park and Ferebee. Next spring is Congress Heights, Fort Stevens, Deanwood, Barry Farm and Rose Park," he said.
Washington is a city rich in public tennis sites, but poor in funds to maintain them or to provide neighborhood instructional programs.
Nowhere is that more clear than in the schools. Dunbar High School, Backus Middle School, Evans Middle School, Patricia Roberts Harris Education Center: Those are just four schools where courts are overgrown with weeds, have missing nets and poles or are paved with what looks like the leftover supplies of a pothole crew.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
Rose Hobson, Washington Tennis Association president, looks at a rusted net pole on weed-covered courts at Evans Middle School in Northeast. "We have to introduce kids to the game early," she says.
(Mark Gail -- The Washington Post)