By CAROL GORGA WILLIAMS
Asbury Park may be closer to resurrecting a competitive and recreational tennis program thanks to a $350,000 grant to refurbish long abandoned tennis courts in the city.
Aaron Williams, who has been playing tennis for nearly 30 years, met with the Board of Education and city officials earlier this year, to discuss such a program. He first unveiled a program in association with the Boys and Girls Club of Monmouth County. Right now the city is the only Shore community without such facilities. Those children interested now play indoors. The girls’ clinic is on Wednesday, the boys on Friday. About 35 children show up for each session.
Williams has been advocating to politicians about such a program. And Sen Vin Gopal got behind it. What followed was a Monmouth County grant of $350,000 out of federal Covid-19 recovery money. At first, there was an idea to build new courts. Later, Williams opted for a resurfacing program for three abandoned courts owned by the school district but out of use for 10 years.
Williams believes there is sufficient interest to recreate competitive tennis teams at the high school and middle school levels. He also would recruit volunteer tennis teachers who also would help children with other goals, such as how best to get into college. That is the part of the “life skills” portion of his program. Before they can play a single match, children must not be hungry. Food insecurity in Asbury Park can impact children’s desire to play.
Williams who is married to Garden State Equality’s’ Cristian Fuscarino, grew up in Pennsauken but relocated to Asbury Park about 2015 while balancing military service. He brought his love of tennis with him. He is recruiting mentors who can help the children in a variety of ways.
“This is about more than tennis,” said Williams who recalled growing up with an absent father.
He said tennis helped him work out feelings of aggression and put him in touch with people outside his neighborhood.
“It is much more than tennis,” he said. “It is about helping these kids see a new opportunity…I have more than a baker’s dozen that are super into it.”
In June, the school board accepted a $10,000 donation from the tennis initiative to conduct a feasibility study at two sites that may be suitable for tennis courts. The agreement stipulates the possibility of two tennis courts at The Barack Obama School on Bangs Avenue and one tennis court at the high school, although locations could change. The bottom line is the $350,000 grant will pay for three tennis courts, ideally connected to a school property. Some board members have been reticent about allowing such research to go forward, fearing environmental contamination at some sites
As defined by state law, brownfield sites are abandoned, idled or underused industrial and commercial facilities where expansion or redevelopment is complicated by real or perceived environmental contamination. Many cities have numerous brownfield sites within their borders but don’t have capacity or awareness on how to identify and market them, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection.
Board Member Joe Grillo called the recent meeting – which included Mayor John B. Moor and Deputy Mayor Amy Quinn, “a productive meeting. “We’re getting back on track in getting the tennis courts up and running,” he said.
Moor said Williams got in touch with city officials after the program seemed to encounter delays. The city was very supportive of Williams’s work which grew out of his association with the Boys and Girls Club.
Williams acknowledged there is a lengthy planning process when seeking to build on school property because of the number of permits required. But he also believes that if he gets the outdoor courts for tennis, pickleball cannot be far behind. He said his colleagues are enthusiastic supporters of pickleball.
“It is a paddle sport and it is a hand to eye coordination sport such as tennis,” Williams said.
“It has always been my desire to give back to Asbury Park and I always had a passion for tennis,” Williams. “I feel it is my obligation.”
If the school board approves, the courts could be resurfaced and available to use by next spring, he said.