It wasn’t until she was 69 that Jane Hackenberg of Croton finally did something she had wanted to do all her life. She learned to play tennis. She headed down to the courts at Carrie E. Tompkins Elementary School and joined a clinic offered by the Croton Harmon Community Tennis Association (CHCTA). She not only learned new skills but also met a community of players with whom she still plays regularly, four years later. “It’s really great to find something at this late age that you can learn and do and get better at,” says the Croton resident. “I have to say, I’m addicted.”
Thanks to the volunteer-based CHCTA, local tennis players of all ages, from beginner to expert, improve their game, find partners, participate in clinics and match play, compete in tournaments, and enjoy well-kept courts right here in the village. “We are a tennis town, and we’re building a tennis community and a pipeline of tennis players,” says Rhonda Schonfeld, CHCTA co-president. “This is a sport for all ages, for families. It’s truly a sport for life.”
Brendan Stierli found his way to CHCTA clinics in middle school, after playing tennis in the driveway with his brother. Now Brendan is a senior on the Croton Harmon High School tennis team and assists the CHCTA teaching pros with clinics. “It feels good knowing I can help other kids like people helped me when I was small,” says Brendan, who is one of the team’s captains and was recently named All-League in Section One Athletics. “Teaching at the clinics also helps me on the team, because when you teach you can see things from a different light and improve your own game.”
The CHCTA runs clinics for children, teens and adults, including a monthly open clinic followed by an adult round robin (mixed match play), as well as a series of weekly group lessons in the spring and fall. CHCTA teaching pro Joe Paterno, who also coaches the Croton Harmon High School girls’ and boys’ tennis teams, coaches the clinics and is often joined on court by neighboring towns’ varsity coaches Roger Dayer, Brad Fredman, and Steve Klurfeld (a former Croton Harmon High School tennis player) and assisted by high school players like Brendan.
“Over the years my passion for tennis has made me appreciate the grassroots power of sharing a common ground with others,” says Patrice Davidson, CHCTA co-president. “It’s remarkable how something as simple as the sport of tennis could pave the way for countless relationships with a tremendously diverse group of people, age 3 to 90+... priceless!"
The CHCTA was formed in 2010, with a founding mission to preserve the red clay courts at Pierre van Cortlandt Middle School, which were in disrepair and slated to be repurposed. The CTA gained permission from the Croton Harmon School District to take over the courts, raised funds from the local tennis community, and rehabilitated the courts, maintaining them each season. The clay courts are used by the middle school tennis team as well as the community. To maintain the courts, the CTA relies on annual membership, participation in events and fundraisers, and the generosity of the tennis community. Since the CTA has been maintaining the clay courts, they are worthy of their nickname: Roland Garros on Hudson, named for the famed red clay courts of the Paris Open.
According to the United States Tennis Association (USTA), there are more than 1,000 registered USTA Community Tennis Associations like Croton’s across the country, not-for-profit, volunteer-based organizations working to develop and promote tennis at the grassroots level. Croton’s reaches some 200 residents of the village and neighboring towns and is seeking to grow its annual membership (annual dues are $40 per person or $55 per family). The Association relies heavily on CHCTA membership, donor support and participation to build the tennis community, offer events for children and adults, and maintain the red clay courts.