Greenpoint Gazette

First-Ever Williamsburg Open

BY Talisa Chang

They’ve been around for less than two months, but McCarren Tennis, a group of regular McCarren Park tennis players, has been working earnestly to raise funds and awareness for much-needed renovations. The courts haven’t had major repairs in over ten years, despite their frequent use by members of the Greenpoint and Williamsburg communities. Just six weeks ago, several regulars, including Dan Backhaus, Sean Hoess, Jessica Glorieux, Aaron Malkine, Monika Chmielewska, and Phillippe Baumann, decided to put their skill sets and energies together to pull together funds they needed. They launched their website less than a month ago, and last weekend they held their first fundraising event: The Williamsburg Open, a tournament that included 64 participants and raised over $5,000. The winners of the tournament were Arthur Bobko (A group) and Raoul Lucas (B group).

McCarren Tennis hopes to eventually raise, through private donations and tasteful corporate sponsorship, $80,000, which is the estimated cost for resurfacing the courts and putting up new windscreens. Even though all patrons are required by the city to pay a $7 per use or $100 per year permit fee to use the courts, they haven’t seen the money re-invested in the courts’ maintenance.

“Basically there’s been a lot of frustration in the community at their condition,” co-founder of the group Sean Hoess said. “There have been a couple new nets but there’s been no repair. The surface has worn down to the asphalt, which is dangerous and bad for traction. If you add up the amount of players here, there are probably a thousand different people who play here over the year, including a lot of regulars. There’s a lot of money being raised, but that money is all going to a general fund. It’s frustrating for tennis players that we’re the only non-organized group that’s forced to pay, but not even a percentage of the money goes back into the courts that we pay to use.”

The renovations will be a gain to a diverse group of communities in the area.

“These courts are packed all the time and there are a couple different contingents,” Hoess said. “The Polish community from Greenpoint has been playing here for twenty to thirty years. Another group is the young people who have moved into the area, sort of the Williamsburg hipsters. Also, a lot of people have moved into the new condos—there’s just a lot of demand.”

“There was perhaps some tension here, years back, when the Polish community had been using these courts for twenty years and all of a sudden a bunch of scrappy Williamsburg types with funny shorts started coming on the court,” Hoess continued. “But over the years that’s really mellowed and everyone just started to really have a peaceful good time. I think this tournament in particular is a good thing because it’s actually one of those things where it’s a complete mix—a good thirty to forty percent of the people who played were from the Polish community and then the rest were from the other groups I’ve mentioned so I think it’s been really positive.”

Players at the courts have been responsive to the group’s mission, and many people individuals from each of the communities have contributed their skills, such as architecture and planning, web design, sponsorship, and promotion, to get things in motion. The McCarren Tennis Website is comprehensive, up-to-date, and even includes forums where players can look for practice partners. The tournament itself was a huge success, with 64 players in the tournament, 40 additional sign-ups, significant private donations, and over 30 business donations.

“When there’s a common interest, it just sort of self-organizes,” Hoess said. “The people who play tennis a lot are really enthusiastic, and we just happen to have a very wide variety of skill sets. It came together largely because people dropped their normal lives to work on tennis.”

A highlight of the Open was the party held Saturday night at the courts, which had over 150 attendants and featured a cash bar and the Williamsburg DJ Collective, Ohio Party.

“It was a good showing,” web designer for the group, Aron Malkine said. “People showed their spirit and were out in full force. The deejays had tennis outfits on in true Williamsburg fashion.”

“We raised almost $2,000 additionally from that night,” Hoess said.” Everything was donated from local businesses—the beer, the PA system, the generator, water, ice, everything. It was really cool.”

McCarren Tennis has been able to succeed in part because of the positive encouragement from the Open Space Alliance (OSA), which has already approved Phase One plans for resurfacing and windscreens, once the funds are there.

“Rather than fight the political beast, for now we’ve decided to raise the money ourselves, privately,” Hoess said. “OSA has been extremely supportive. Because of that, if we can raise the money, they’ll let us do the repairs. From there, well worry about the politics.”

While resurfaced courts and windscreens are the most immediate concern, the group has drafted plans for later phases in which they hope to get lights for evening play, and potentially even more courts where the softball fields are now, though it would mean new softball fields first.

“This once was twenty-one courts. It would be great to have one really Prospect Park-class tennis center here in this neighborhood, and there’s enough players to support it,” Hoess said. “But I don’t want to ruffle any feathers because that’s very far down the road.”

McCarren Tennis doesn’t have any plans of slowing down, with plans for a winter event at Brooklyn Bowl in the next few months and another tournament in the spring. Until then, players and interested community members can visit their website, mccarrentennis.org, to find out more or to donate.

“Honestly, it’s hard to be against this project,” Hoess said. “The courts are here, they’re in terrible condition, and we’re going to do something good for them. End of story.”

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