A group headed by D.C. City Councilman John Wilson requested a permit from the National Park Service July 12 to use two tennis courts at 16th and Kennedy Streets for a mid-September charity tennis tournament benefiting Sursum Corda neighborhood Center.
Three weeks later, the request was turned down. The Park Service said it "would be setting a bad precedent" by allowing courts to be reserved when they would interfere with the public's opportunity to use them.
James Redman, the superintendent of Rock Creek Park, recommended to Abner Bradley, associate director of operations for the National Park Service, that he deny the request. "We'd be setting a precedent," he said, "even though the precedent had been set already."
The precedent was set May 14-15 when Redman granted a permit to the American Newswomen's Committee for a two-day tournament using two courts. The only difference between the tournaments is that Wilson's group planned to charge an admission fee.
"We didn't grant the permit because we don't want to get into a situation where we would have to let people use the courts for tournments every weekend," Redman said. "We didn't evaluate the women's group request very closely. When this request (Wilson's) came in, we decided it was time to re-evaluate the situation."
Wilson sees things differently. "Right from the beginning, they've annoyed me," he said. "I can't get them to return my letters or my phone calls. They say they don't want to set a precedent. That's not it all. It's just that some people can get those courts and some people can't. I can't."
"I can see why Councilman Wilson would be concerned," Bradley said. "I'm sorry we let the first tournament happen. If I had known about it then, does look like preferential treatment, but it's not.
"But you have to draw the line somewhere and we decided this would be the best time. We messed up the first time when we gave the women the courts."
The original request for a permit for the benefit tournament, submitted by tournament director Mary Wise, was processed by the Park Service's special events office. Wise submitted her request following a conversation with Rick Merriman in that office.
Merriman said he sent the request on to Redman even though it is the special events office that normally grants such permits.
"They didn't need a permit," Merriman said yesterday. "GSI (Government Services, Inc., the concessionaire at the courts) had the right to grant them the rental of the courts as long as they checked with the part superintendent to make sure they met the Part Service guidelines," ultimately receive the request from Redman.
But GSI turned the request back to Redman. "They did need a permit," GSI vice president Walter Williams said, "Because they were going to be charging an admission fee they had to have a permit. We're not authorized to allow soliciting on federal property, and that is considered soliciting."
On July 29, Wise was told by the Park Service that it was "doubtful" she would receive a permit. Told of this, Wilson contacted Wallace Green at the Department of the Interior.
"My initial thought was that the Star (professional) tournament should be the only exception to the rule about excluding the public from playing up there," Green said yesterday. "But when I heard about the women's club tournament, I said that if in fact should be open to John Wilson's request."
The Washington Star International Tennis Tournament, played for the benefit of the Washington Area Tennis Patrons Foundation, is the exception Green referred to. In 1971, the tennis patrons signed a corporate agreement with the Park Service. In return for the use of 10 clay courts for 10 days each year, the tennis patrons agreed to pay $200,000 to build a stadium on the site.
The agreement was amended in 1976 to allow the tournament use of all 17 clay courts in return for floodlights.
"We don't have $200,000," Wilson said. "We weren't asking for any preferential treatment. We were willing to pay for the courts. They weren't giving them to us. I wouldn't feel so bad if someone had given me a justifiable explanation, but I can't even [WORD ILLEGIBLE] phone call out of them."
On Aug. 11, after having [WORD ILLEGIBLE] close to $3,000 in contributions, Wilson and Wise decided to call [WORD ILLEGIBLE] tournament. They sent out calculation letters explaining they had not been able to get a permit and sent back the money they had received.
On Aug. 12, Redman called Wilson to say the Park Service had [WORD ILLEGIBLE] to try and work something out."
"By then it was too late," Wilson said. "You can't run a tournament on maybes. We'll try again next year. I think we'll put in an application next month. Maybe that will help.
George Berklacy, public affairs officer for the National Park Service, said he hoped the tournament could some off next year.
"Actually, we should've been able to handle the problem this year," he said. "We made a mistake and we have to own up to it. There was a breakdown in communications here somewhere.
"I don't see any reason why we can't allow a few tournaments a year. These kinds of things are in the public interest and as long as they don't become every weekend, we should allow them.
"I really can't imagine why there was such a problem this year. I just can't believe we can't make some adjustments for something like this. I'm sorry we couldn't work things out for them."