It has been a year since Arlington received a $2,500 grant and Sen. William Proxmire's "Golden Fleece" award for a federally funded study of fear and loathing on the county's overcrowed tennis courts.
"The taxpayers of this country have been aced for some pretty stupid projects," said Wisconsin Democrat, an enthusiastic jogger, "but a grant to study tennis court etiquette is the biggest default to date."
The project, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, was the brainchild of Arlington recreation department supervisor Helen Sweeney. Sweeney wanted to explore ways of solving the problem created by a shortage of public courts and a surfeit of tennis players, many of them non-residents who refused to vield to residents waiting to use the courts.
Sweeney's study took the form of two sparsely attended "tennis town meetings" held last spring at which two consultants, a sociologist and an ethics professor, spoke on the issues involved.
"The situation had been presented by many people as being crucial to their lives," Sweeney said. "I was surprised that so few people turned out. I wish I'd gotten the award earlier; it's great publicity. The idea was to provoke discussion, to look at the problem from a humanistic standpoint. Arlington had rules - like the one-hour limit when others are waiting - that were not working. This phenomenon occurs in urban society where people tend to isolate themselves.
"What we discussed was whether people wanted to enforce their own rules by forming a sort of tennis community and policing themselves or whether they wanted to pay to hire monitors."
As a result of the town meetings, fees were charged and full-time monitors were hired for the county's largest courts located at Barcroft and Bluemont. A team of uniformed police, aides patrol Arlington's 24 other courts, where there are no fees, to make sure residents are given priority and that sign-up sheets are maintained.
Complaints, which once flooded the, recreation department at a rate of 200 per month, have dropped to one or two monthly calls, according to a recreation department spokesman.
"The system works very well at Bluemont," said John Mathewson, who plays tennis there several times perweek. "At TJ (Thomas Jefferson), what used to happen is that you'd get six people who would drive over from the District, bringing coolers and lawn chairs and hog the court by playing doubles. They'd rotate and say because they brought in two new people it was a new game."
Sweeney said the study surprised her. Tennis courts really weren't that important to people," she said. "People are willing to complain and just accept the problems in order to avoid paying for monitors at all courts. It's kind of Proposition 13 oriented."