New Courts Mean
New Beginnings in Norwalk
James Maimonis, Manager, Media & Communications | September 11, 2019
NORWALK, CT- Just one day removed from the US Open where dreams came true for so many ATP and WTA players, one Connecticut tennis and education organization saw its dreams become a reality. In partnership with the City of Norwalk, CT and the USTA, Norwalk Grassroots Tennis and Education completed the three-year construction and reconstruction process that resulted in the creation of the state-of-the-art William Rippe Tennis Center.
The new facility, located at Springwood Park on the “campus” of Norwalk Grassroots, features four newly renovated courts, two brand new full-size courts, and two eight-and-under courts complete with backboards.
“These courts mean everything to us,” said Norwalk Grassroots Chairman of the Board and project lead, Caren Palder. “Tennis is the foundation of so much of what we do. ADVERTISEMENT Education of course is important to us as well, but how could we deliver tennis if the courts weren’t safe, and they really just weren’t. So from that perspective alone, it was really important, and showing these kids that they’re entitled to courts that are this beautiful is a wonderful thing.”
“I’ve been here 19 years and this is one of the best moments ever,” said Norwalk Grassroots Tennis Director, David Kimani. “From the day I walked in here 19 years ago, I said, ‘Oh my God, those are cracks. Let’s patch them up.’ Eventually the idea came up to raise some money for them, with the support of the City of Norwalk and the USTA here we are, it finally happened!”
The City of Norwalk has been on board supporting the organization since day one, understanding the importance of tennis to its residents, especially the youth.
“We have such an unbelievable and unique partnership. The City of Norwalk is completely invested in all the citizens in their community, and they demonstrated that by stepping up to the plate right away and working with us to make this happen. We are so grateful for their support,” said Betsy McNeil, Norwalk Grassroots Executive Director.
Since 1995, Norwalk Grassroots, a certified USTA CTA (Community Tennis Association) and NJTL (National Junior Tennis and Learning) chapter, has given underserved youth in Norwalk and the surrounding area the opportunity to learn tennis at a high level while adding an educational off-court component.
“This puts Norwalk on the tennis map. We’ve invested in our tennis courts, and more importantly, we’ve invested in our children,” said Norwalk Mayor and former Police Chief, Harry Rilling. “Our children who live in the inner city may not have the opportunity to be involved in tennis to any great degree, so with Grassroots, we have instructors to help them learn about the game of tennis, the sportsmanship of tennis, learn about teamwork, discipline, and it gets them out of the house in a meaningful, healthy, physical activity.”
The courts were designed by USTA’s Director of Market Development, Virgil Christian, and his team. Named in honor of the late Bill Rippe, an avid tennis player, philanthropist and Grassroots supporter, the tennis center opened for use on July 8 and held its grand opening ceremony and ribbon cutting on September 9 in front of 250 supporters.
“This is an exciting day in so many ways. For us, it’s really about demonstrating to the community that they deserve the absolute best. They deserve a state-of-the-art facility right in their backyard to use, play tennis at, congregate as a community, and for physical fitness and to get healthy,” McNeil said. “For us personally, it means we can hit it out of the park in terms of how many kids we can serve and support and work alongside to ensure success over their lifetime.”
The grand opening featured more than 100 kids participating in organized games and drills with coaches and members of the Fairfield University tennis teams. The ceremony featured presentations from Palder, McNeil, Mayor Rilling, Norwalk Grassroots founder, Art Goldblatt, and Vice Chairman, Sean Cahill, and the highly anticipated ribbon cutting. Parents, town officials, police officers, donors and numerous supports looked on as the future of tennis in Norwalk became that much brighter.
With the addition of the two new courts, Norwalk will now also be able to host USTA sanctioned tournaments (minimum of six courts required).
Shouri Akarapu, a Grassroots student for the past eight years and now a junior coach, remembers the courts when he first started and how far they have come.
“When I was a young kid here, the courts were always dusty, the fences were low, and there were always cracks, pieces of the courts missing and the nets were old. So when we’d run drills and activities, you couldn’t really play to your best because of the obstacles on the court and safety hazards,” the high school senior said. “It’s quite amazing to see how it’s changed. What a difference. If you saw them before, you’d never imagine it could turn into something so new and nice like this. I’m very excited to try out the courts before I head off to college in the fall.”
Norwalk Grassroots will have priority of the courts but they will otherwise be open for public use.
For more information about Norwalk Grassroots, visit their website.