Sales of Mead Park tennis permits are up 70% year-over-year, officials say.
The New Canaan Recreation Department had sold 473 permits in 2021 as of the Sept. 8 meeting of the Parks & Recreation Commission, according to Commissioner George Benington.
The figure compares to 277 in 2020 and 142 “so we can obviously see the post-COVID effects, or COVID effects, are having a huge impact on our facilities,” Benington said at the meeting, held via videoconference.
“The numbers speak for themselves,” he said. “They’re absolutely phenomenal.”
The comments came during update from Benington on the town’s tennis, platform or “paddle” tennis and recently opened pickleball facilities. The paddle tennis courts at Waveny are set to open Oct. 2, he said, and a new practice wall or backboard for tennis players at Mead had been delivered and was ready for installation. The town also had 428 sign-ups for its tennis clinics this year, Benington said—a record high.
“With all this wear and tear there may be more deferred maintenance down the road,” he said. “It’s a good problem to have. We love to have this type of problem.”
With their natural “social distancing” in an outdoor setting, tennis and paddle in New Canaan and elsewhere has re-emerged as an extremely popular sport amid the COVID-19 pandemic, officials have said.
In New Canaan, the turnaround has been dramatic. Just two years ago, Recreation Director Steve Benko found himself defending the town’s tennis programs in the face of criticism from some that the clay courts at Mead were under-used. To ensure the town met its target opening date in early-May for the clay courts (three years ago, the town was late in opening the “Hartru” courts at Mead when a contracted company failed to deliver the clay material), the selectmen in February approved a contract that included a 15% incentive bonus.
Commissioner Francesca Segalas said the timely opening of the courts was key for players, and urged those who oversaw the successful program to ensure it happens again.
Commissioners also asked about replacing some missing brooms for the clay courts (they’re expensive), getting squeegees for the pickle ball courts (they were on order), getting new tape for the Mead Park tennis courts (it could be replaced next spring), how long an attendant will staff the courts (into November) and whether pickle ball will be closed at that point (no).
Segalas also advocated for the ability to book the tennis courts in half-hour slots so that people could play in 90-minute intervals. The Commission agreed to take up the recommendation in October or November.
Chair Rona Siegel thanked Bening for his report and also thanked Benko, as well as Recreation Supervisor Steve Dayton, Commissioner Steve Haberstroh, Public Works Director Tiger Mann and Parks Superintendent John Howe, among others, for their work in ensuring the success New Canaan’s tennis, paddle and pickle ball offerings.