The people’s courts: Locals cry foul over unauthorized tennis coaches hogging hardtops

The people’s courts: Locals cry foul over unauthorized tennis coaches hogging hardtops
Photo by Jason Speakman

This match is not love-love.

Tennis instructors without coaching permits are monopolizing a pair of prime courts in a small Fort Greene park by using the taxpayer-funded hardtops to give lessons, according to local players who said the profit-seeking pros are wrecking their game.

“It’s a combination of etiquette on the courts, tying them up, and the principle that nobody should be making money off of them,” said Gabriele Schafer, a Fort Greene resident who plays at South Oxford Park with her husband five times a week. “I’m tired of going there and getting my blood pressure up.”

The Parks Department awards permits for coaches to teach at certain green spaces across New York City, including the larger Fort Greene Park and Brownsville Tennis Center, that typically have more than four courts. But South Oxford Park only has two — one for singles and one for doubles — and is not a designated coaching site, according to agency spokeswoman Maeri Ferguson.

The park, unlike its bigger counterparts, does not have an attendant to make sure instructors do not hog the facilities. Sign-up sheets that allow players to reserve hour-long sessions are used instead, and coaches will arrive as early as 7 am in order to nab several slots at a time for lessons, which have monopolized the courts for as many as six hours a day for the past three years, according to Schafer.

And even when she is able to play, the local said she shares the facilities with teachers and pupils who whack around 30 balls back-and-forth between them, violating a Parks Department rule that prohibits more than six on a court at a time.

“You spend half the time knocking their students’ balls back,” said Schafer. “There are rules and no one follows them.”

South Oxford Park’s hardtops are also two of the few in Brooklyn where people can get away with playing without a permit, which costs $100. And Schafer, who owns one, said the greedy coaches prohibit people who can’t afford a pass from using the courts.

“They need to stay democratic,” she said. “People take advantage of the system.”

One coach who teaches on the courts admitted to breaking the rules, but said his fellow instructors do, too, and that he’s hardly the worst offender.

“Other people are doing a lot more hours there than I am,” said Melvin Swanson.

Swanson declined to name any peers, but at least one other man was spotted teaching youngsters on a visit to the site this week.

Schafer demanded the parks department address the situation, and provided the agency with documentation showing instructors’ abuse of court policies, but said meadow honchos told her that enforcing the rules is difficult because violations like these happen everywhere.

“The issue you described occurs at tennis facilities in every borough, and is a difficult one to address effectively, since officers must observe the violation when it occurs and confirm that a fee is being charged,” said agency rep Deborah Zingale in a September 2016 e-mail.

The parks department recently hung a sign outside the courts declaring only permitted coaches could teach on them and, while lessons are still being given, Ferguson said officials are monitoring the situation.

Reach reporter Lauren Gill at lgill@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her on Twitter @laurenk_gill