Within a matter of days, McCarren Park will open its six, new U.S. Open-style blue tennis courts. American Express and the United States Tennis Association funded the makeover, but it was Sean Hoess and the McCarren Tennis Association who got their attention.
The Bushwick resident (above, center) founded the Association around a year and a half ago with fellow players Meng Ai (left), Aron Malkine (right), Dan Backhaus, Jessica Glorieux and Monika Chmielewska. Together with the Williamsburg/Greenpoint tennis community, the group resurfaced one of the courts on their own after years of frustration with the city’s park departments.
“The courts were in an unbelievable state of disrepair,” Hoess, 40, said. “And the city charges all tennis players to maintain the upkeep. But these promises never lead to any refurbishing.”
The surface of a tennis court is as important as the players. Because there aren’t enough funds to dome all the courts in the city, rain, snow and ice end up cracking the foundation and surface of the unprotected courts. Cracks lead to bad bounces and rough patches ruin the fuzz on the tennis balls.
“The other courts are worn down to asphalt,” said Hoess, who has been playing at the courts for over eight years.
Hoess and the McCarren Tennis Association took the matter into their own hands. Through fundraising, like the Williamsburg Open tennis tournament, the organization raised around $10,000. But that’s just a drop in the bucket when it comes to resurfacing courts.
“We realized we needed $50,000 to $60,000 to resurface all the courts,” said Hoess. “My cohorts and I decided to do one ourselves. We bought $4,500 worth of supplies.”
It’s not a simple matter of spray-painting new lines. There’s the process of filling the cracks, using a special surfacing material in addition to freshening up lines and paint.
Combining over 200 hours of manual labor, elbow grease and multiple coats of paint, Hoess and his organization finished resurfacing McCarren Park’s Court Seven on May 11. It was Hoess’ first foray into community-based activism.
“We got a ton of press for that,” Hoess said. “The USTA noticed. And in the meantime they worked with American Express to start a program called Fresh Courts.”
The USTA’s and American Express’ Fresh Courts program began July 26 and is targeting 17 courts throughout Los Angeles, Washington D.C. and New York for resurfacing.
“Because we were so active, the USTA picked us,” Hoess said.
With $50,000 in funding provided by American Express, McCarren Park will have six good-as-new courts in addition to two QuickStart courts for beginners and children. Resurfacing began last Friday, and tennis players were hoping for the renovations to finish just in time for the U.S. Open, but the project may be delayed a couple of days due to the rain. Regardless of the progress, a press conference is still set for this Thursday.
Hoess, who runs a media company when he isn’t on the courts, doesn’t see his work ending there.
“When we finished resurfacing court seven, people would actually wait for hours to play on that court.”
Hoess wants to see more organization when that happens. He’s proposing an online reservation system to streamline the waiting times and deal with the demands of the courts.
In terms of protecting all the hard work and playing during the winter months, his tennis association approves the doming of the courts as proposed by a private investment group, so long as the pricing and community access to the courts is fair. A more immediate goal for Hoess and his group are new lights to extend play hours and windscreens for the new fences.
“If these things are finished in time, we’re planning on a tournament in the fall.”
Text by Alex Abad-Santos. Photos courtesy of Sean Hoess.
Editor’s Note: We updated the headline (which originally read “Local Hero: Sean Hoess”) to reflect the fact that this is a group effort. Also, we expanded on the future improvements in the works for the courts.