IT CAME AS A SURPRISE the other day that a tennis tournament had to be canceled. The tournament was to have been a benefit for the Sursum Corda Neighborhood Center, a housing project for low-income residents that has been a well-managed success. It was cancelled because of an unusual set of circumstances involving the National Park Service and the benefit committee, of which City Council man John Wilson was a member. The committee wanted to have its tournament on one of the 16th and Kennedy Streets tennis corts, which are under the jurisdiction of the Park Service. It applied for a permit in early July and waited several weeks for a decision from the Park Service. During that time, it was told a decision had not been made but the prospect was good that a permit would be granted. Acting in good faith, the committee began to recruit local tennis pros and celebrities. It also started soliciting and receiving contributions from local businesses. After more than five weeks of waiting, the group was denied a permit. The Park Service view was that having a charitable event on public courts would deny the public access to those courts and set an "unmanageable precedent" for future court use.
But the story doesn't stop there. Councilman Wilson reminded the Park Service and officials at the Department of Interior that at least one other group had recently used the courts for charitable purposes. He wondered if the Park Service had a double standard. So the matter was reconsidered late last week - and the Park Service agreed to work out some arrangement with the committee. But by then, Mr. Wilson had canceled the plans and returned the contributions since time had run out for planning the event. Several thousand dollars have had to be returned.
The loss of an opportuntity to raise funds for a project as deserving as the Sursum Corda Neighborhood Center is indeed disappointing. Clearly the Park Service, to avoid any further such episodes, should establish some guidelines governing use of the tennis courts. The general public should not be denied the use of these facilities. But some of the courts could also be available, on occasion, to those who would like to rent them for charitable purposes. The object should be to avoid another situation like the one that caused so much unnecessary trouble and inconvenience for the people who were trying to help the Sursum Corda project.