The subject of Reis Park’s troubled tennis courts has been batted around for what seems like forever.
Decades ago, the town replaced their aging asphalt with synthetic grass and plastic mat so they could be used for other activities.
These materials are notoriously slippery when wet and, claim tennis buffs, cause balls to bounce differently than traditional hard surfaces.
Needless to say, they haven’t been a big hit.
Two years ago, Parks and Rec considered replacing them with a coating that plays like a hard court, but stuck with faux turf after learning the cost of ripping up what’s underneath.
Somers High School has athletic fields, but no tennis courts. Students practice and play at the town park off Primrose Street. In exchange, community athletic organizations use school facilities for free.
Now things have been lobbed back into the laps of school officials.
Teen athletes—backed up by parents—recently told the Board of Education they are tired of sitting on the sidelines and they want on-campus tennis courts.
Playing at Reis—even though it’s right down the road—makes them feel less valued than the kids who play other sports.
“Everyone loves cheering for our athletes: our parents, administration, and students alike,” Grace DeFeo told the board Tuesday, Oct. 29.
The situation “doesn’t draw attention to our tennis players. They don’t get the fan support. They don’t feel they are part of the school. They don’t get the recognition for their accomplishments that they deserve,” said the parent of a senior on the girls’ varsity tennis team and a sophomore on the boys’ junior varsity soccer and varsity tennis teams.
Reis’s courts “are not up to par for playing tennis whether you are a beginner or a seasoned player,” DeFeo said.
A visiting team’s coach once was so “outraged” when one of his players slipped and fell that he pulled her off the court and forfeited the match. “How embarrassing for Somers. Why is this acceptable? It’s not OK,” she said.
Having on-campus courts could boost Tusker pride and benefit the entire community, DeFeo said. “Modified tennis teams” could be started, as well, at the middle school.
The district has been told the project could run about $1.5 million. However, new courts at John Jay High School cost $550,000, DeFeo said.
The Cross River school’s tennis teams had previously used courts at Fox Valley Town Park, 15 minutes away.
John Jay raised funds through private donations, grants from the U.S. Tennis Association, and a contribution from the high school’s Booster Club. DeFeo suggested that Somers could do something similar.
She read a letter from local tennis pro Bob Schewoir who called Reis’s courts “an accident waiting to happen.”
Parks and Recreation Superintendent Steve Ralston has pointed out that signs are posted with a warning that the courts are “slippery when wet.” When it’s raining, the town cancels lessons, but it’s up to the district’s athletic director to make the call for school teams, he said last year.
Taking the next swing was Sabrina Cheung, a member of the high school’s varsity tennis team.
The courts are slippery even when it hasn’t rained. Weed-filled holes create “dead spots” where the ball won’t bounce properly.
The soft sand causes twisted ankles, the sophomore claimed.
Sabrina’s nearly fallen so many times that she’s often “scared to run for the ball” and ends up “losing points.”
Practice time is cut by having to be transported to Reis. Players have to change in the library’s bathrooms, which takes longer because there are only two stalls. The team has been penalized for being late, Sabrina said.
Tusker spirit suffers because matches occur off campus: “No one really knows what’s going on.” And it’s “really embarrassing” when just the players’ parents show up at matches.
Consultants working with the district’s multimillion-dollar safety/security project came up with a rough “pro bono” estimate of $1.5 million, said schools Superintendent Dr. Raymond Blanch. “That’s as far as I can get, without putting in some dollars.”
The district does not have a grant writer, but “if the grants are there, we could try to figure out a way to get after those things,” he said.
Blanch said that funding a project of this size would require either bonding or a capital improvement plan.
Blanch noted that the school swimming team doesn’t have an on-site pool, the ice hockey team, a rink, or the golf squad, a course. He agreed, however, that the district’s athletics program would “love” tennis courts.
Once a bond is approved, it could be three-plus years before courts could be built.
Trustee Iffay Chang said while taxpayer support for the project has to be assessed, the request “should be looked at from an equity point of view.”
“We support all sports,” he added.
Reis’s courts could be resurfaced at “a fraction of the cost of what we’re talking about. But those aren’t our courts,” Blanch said.
Trustee Michael D’Anna agreed: “It’s much easier to refurbish existing than to build new.”
Chang wondered whether students could use Heritage Hills’ courts.
Condo complex resident Brian Schaffner said that wouldn’t work for tournaments because they aren’t all in the same spot. The parent of a student himself, he doubted that residents there “would want their courts used by children” anyway.
Trustee MaryRose Joseph said a solution can be found if the district and community teams think “creatively.”
Trustee Heidi Cambareri said it’s clear that better courts are needed, but “if we build them at the school, that’s not going to help the community, because they’ll be for school activities first.” But Blanch said the district’s athletic fields are “about 60 percent used by the town, 40 percent by the schools,” adding: “I wouldn’t be surprised if the tennis courts weren’t used the same way.”
DeFeo, happy the board seems to be taking concerns to heart, called Tuesday’s discussion “a good sign.”