All eyes may be on Flushing for the U.S. Open, but for some families, Bed-Stuy is the center of tennis action in NYC.
Through the nonprofit Kings County Tennis League, disused playgrounds have been transformed into courts, where local children can learn and practice the sport in their backyard.
Michael McCasland founded Kings County Tennis League in 2010, growing from one student at a site near the Marcy Houses to 150 players across five locations in or near Bed-Stuy housing developments.
Along the way, the group has raised funds to renovate courts at the Marcy Houses, Tompkins Houses and, the latest, Sumner Houses.
The league started playing on a blacktop space at the NYCHA property in 2014, using portable nets. After a nearly $20,000 renovation that wrapped up this month, the area has been transformed into a mini court, designed for ages 10 and under, with a new tennis court surface, net and net post. Banners of prominent African-American tennis pros, such as Venus and Serena Williams and Arthur Ashe, also line the fence.
“Before the court was not so functional — now it’s a tennis center,” McCasland said. “Now the kids can play there when we’re not there.”
Sumner Houses resident Ivelisse Mejias enrolled her kids — AJ, 12, Janelly, 9, and Katelynn, 7 — in the league last summer. Since the renovation, they’ve been playing every day.
“They can walk a few feet and they are able to play for as long as they want — it’s perfect,” Mejias said. “To see the excitement on their faces — that’s what I look most forward to.”
The league is geared toward low-income families in the neighborhood and provides free tennis programming and equipment, including rackets, tennis balls and uniforms. With the help of more than 100 volunteers, as well as donations and grants from the likes of the United States Tennis Association (USTA), it leads several year-round programs, as well as trips to matches. On Sept. 4, it will bring a dozen students to the U.S. Open to participate in a demonstration with the USTA.
Next year, the league would like to renovate a playground it uses near Lafayette Gardens.
“We’re always looking to expand our programming and improve the sites,” program manager David Webley said. “Our goal is to not only provide free tennis to the kids, but to grow and build in the community.”