Serving Up A Victory

A few years ago, a group of senior tennis players approached Wendy Allegrone, the director of the Recreation Department in Brewster, Mass., to complain about the condition of the town’s tennis courts. Tucked behind the Brewster firehouse, the Nickerson Tennis Courts were in urgent need of repair and, in some cases, no longer playable.

“We have a large, active senior-tennis population here, and the courts were in really bad shape,” Allegrone says. “The town considered fixing them, but it would’ve cost $100,000, maybe more. Instead, a decision was made to start from scratch and build new courts elsewhere.”

The result was a tennis complex that may set a new standard for all future public tennis facilities. Best of all, the project can be replicated in communities and at tennis facilities across the country–and it has.

A Number Of Details

Tennis courts are being built at park and recreational facilities from Massachusetts to California and many places in between as more and more directors are embracing the economic and fitness benefits of tennis–particularly for kids 10 and under. In 2009, tennis participation surpassed 30 million for the first time in the 22-year history of the Taylor Group’s Annual Study on Participation and, more recently, the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association found that tennis is the fastest-growing traditional sport in the country.

“Tennis is a tremendous way to increase the programming at your local facility, and its health and wellness benefits are well-documented,” says Karen Ford, the national manager of the United States Tennis Association’s Tennis in the Parks. “And if an agency has the desire to add or expand tennis offerings or to improve facilities, we have the resources to help make it happen. It’s truly an ideal partnership that serves both local communities and tennis as a whole.”

Such was precisely the case in Brewster. Once the decision was made to construct a new tennis facility, Allegrone contacted Ford at the USTA to seek guidance on how and where to start. After getting a crash course in tennis-facility planning and design, Allegrone and her team hired a consulting firm and an architect, and located the right space to build the new complex. They settled on an empty, undeveloped 7-acre lot owned by the town, close to local schools, reserved for recreational use and adjacent to a parking lot.

With a plan in place, the group undertook the laborious task of convincing the town that a tennis facility was the best use of that space, competing with other projects for final approval. Securing the land–a process that included making sure the construction would be environmentally sound and not intrude on any historic spaces–was only the first step, however. Step two was obtaining funding, always a difficult proposition in a struggling economy. But Allegrone and her team were prepared and, after another round of presentations to various officials and boards, the project received the go-ahead.

“We had to go in front of what seemed like a million different boards to get our project approved,” Allegrone says. “Municipal government moves incredibly slowly, so it was a lot of time and work, but the final project was very rewarding.”

Quick Decisions

Nearly a year after the first proposal was submitted, construction began; however, it was the end product that makes the facility so forward-thinking. During the initial planning stages, it was determined that the land secured could only accommodate a limited number of full-sized, 78-foot tennis courts. The alternative was building four 78-foot by 36-foot tennis courts and four courts to accommodate the QuickStart Tennis play format, which is part of the USTA’s 10-and-under tennis initiative that scales tennis down to best fit the needs and abilities of younger players, including having smaller courts, lighter and lower-bouncing balls and smaller and lighter racquets.

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