Thanks to the weather and the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, winter sports fever has pretty much hit us all. A group of tennis-loving New York City, kids, however, aren’t just counting the days until they can hit the courts again, they’re actually still playing regularly.
Thanks to PlayToday, a program of the City Parks Foundation (CPF), nearly 200 youth tennis players are able to continue training at several indoor “bubble” courts across the city.
“It’s an extension of what we do in the summer, when we offer a free tennis program for about 6,000 kids in 38 parks in the five boroughs,” said Mike Silverman, director of sports for CPF, which is a nonprofit not affiliated with the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation. “Tennis is a lonely sport, and in the winter, it gets lonelier, and that’s where this came from.”
Bubble court times, which are very limited, can range from $40 to $150 for an hour, “so it makes tennis really restrictive,” Silverman said.
“With the PlayToday card, it’s $5,” said Akash Hongal, a 13-year-old tennis player from Flushing.
Hongal has been part of CPF's tennis program since 2012 and can now play five times a month during the off-season with about 200 other intermediate and advanced players ages 12 and up who can benefit from year-round court time and free instruction.
“It’s a great sport, and I really enjoying playing it, especially when we’re competing,” Hongal said. “It helped me out in school, and I’ve started to grow more and more athletic.”
His father, Mahesh, is proud to see that progression. “My son has gone from being a kid who knows how to play tennis to being one of the best,” he said.
Hongal plans to play tennis in high school and college — and maybe beyond as some of CPF’s past participants have.
“We’ve seen kids come through the program who got college tennis scholarships or (U.S. Tennis Association) rankings through this,” Silverman said. “It’s been very rewarding to see that, to see the progress over the years of these beginners using tennis to better their lives.”
In warmer months, CPF also offers golf, soccer, fitness and track and field, but tennis is “by far the biggest turnout,” he said. “That’s because of the facilities that we have. New York City has more public tennis courts than any other city in the country, over 700 I believe.”
And it doesn’t hurt that we’re home to the U.S. Open. In fact, its USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing is the most popular court CPF kids play on in winter.
For more info, visit cityparksfoundation.org.