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Highland Park

The Daily Plant : Thursday, August 23, 2007

A Tennis Revival At Highland Park


Photo by Helen Ho

If you visit the tennis courts at Highland Park, you will likely see youngsters practicing their forehands, backhands, serves and volleys. However, this was not always the case. Dion Lachmanen, a local resident, recalls the days when "these guys [were] racing their hobby cars around the courts. There was no tennis playing... soccer, cricket, anything but tennis." Dion spoke to Park Supervisor Chet Heald and Partnerships Outreach Coordinator Helen Ho and, before long, a tennis renaissance would commence.

On a chilly, windy and rainy It’s My Park! Day in October 2005, a group of 20 concerned tennis players joined Parks officials to begin a strategy for the courts’ revitalization. They formed the Highland Park Tennis Association (HPTA) and started meeting once a month to think and plan ahead for the upcoming 2006 tennis season. That year they held a tennis open house publicized by flyers and word of mouth. At this first event they had over 150 children and parents come to the park to take advantage of the free tennis clinics they were running that day. The following week, they launched a weekly Highland Park Junior Tennis Program. Over the next 18 weeks they had 154 participants between the ages of 4-18. Dion recalls, "No rain fell on the courts on Saturdays in the first year of the program."

This same program has continued to the present day and about 350 neighborhood children and families currently come out from Cypress Hills, East New York, Bushwick, Ridgewood, Bed-Stuy, and Richmond Hill. During this time the group also actively worked to build alliances, friendships, and park coalitions with other groups such as the City Parks Foundation (who also holds free tennis lessons), the local YMCA, the Friends of Highland Park Children's Garden, the Highland Park Community Advocates, the USTA, the library, and local merchants who would sponsor event snacks and publicity materials. The group also promotes the City Parks Tennis Program taking place on the same courts during the week. "Every chance a child gets to play on these courts whether it’s our program or City Parks Foundation’s is a good one," says Team Coach Hector Henry.

The HPTA started competing in the USTA Junior Team Tennis in 2006. The event encourages youth to play and cooperate in team sports and also creates opportunities for friendly competition, boosting self-esteem, meeting other like minded peers, and travel. In their first season, the novice team placed first in the highly competitive tennis borough of Queens, went on the win the New York City division and won the silver medal in the New York State finals. The team couldn’t afford the entry fees to compete, but luckily a sponsor swooped and saved the day so that the children could play.

This year, in the 2007 competition, the Highland Park Team repeated their efforts and swept not only the Queens and New York City divisions, but placed first in all of New York State for the 14 and under intermediate division. They are eagerly awaiting their trip to Tucson, Arizona in October and aspire to bring home the National Championship. The chances to play competitively and travel extensively would be few and far between for these award-winning tennis champs if not for the Highland Park Tennis Association.

Today, Team Captain Dion Lachmanen marvels at all the different pieces of the puzzle that came together from their local alliances with coaches, businesses and families and a strong relationship with Parks to make a transformative change in the use of the courts. He remarked, "Every Saturday morning at 8:30 a.m., I go to the park to help with the program and watch the kids hit the ball around. These moments are priceless."

Written by Helen Ho

QUOTATION FOR THE DAY

"Never discourage anyone who continually makes progress, no matter how slow."

Plato

(427 BC – 347 BC)

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