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Town leaning towards keeping clay courts at Amory Park after competing tennis, pickleball campaigns

The clay courts at Amory Park. Photo by Vivi Smilgius
May 24, 2024

On a recent sunny day at Amory Park, all six of the town’s only public clay tennis courts were in use. The soft pop of racquets connecting with balls punctuated the sounds of nearby birds and wildlife as players, ranging from young adult to elderly, engaged in intense singles and more leisurely doubles matches.

The clay courts have been the source of friction between Brookline’s tennis and pickleball communities as the town debated whether to pave the courts as part of its renovations to Amory Park. After receiving over 130 emails from tennis players urging that the clay be retained and a petition signed by 42 pickleball players advocating for paving the surface, the town appears to be on the brink of deciding to keep the clay.

Although the town had considered paving the courts to lower maintenance costs, clay will “very likely be the final design,” said Alexandra Vecchio, director of parks and open space in Brookline. “There was a great outpouring of support to keep the courts clay from Brookline tennis players.”

In emails to the Department of Parks and Open Space, tennis players said clay courts slow ball movement and allow for play even in a drizzle, while hard courts get slick with rain. Its forgiving surface, they said, is easier on aging joints than hard-paved courts.

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“I am a senior tennis player that has used Amory courts for over 20 years,” Brookline resident Michael Siegel wrote in an email to the town. “I could not play in Brookline without the clay [due to] knees, back, and other injuries. Many players at the courts are in the same condition.”

Pickleball players, in their petition, also emphasized the game’s appeal to players of all ages. They cited the increased capacity that comes with multi-use paved courts available to players of both sports.

“Pickleball’s soaring popularity in Brookline is undeniable,” the petition states. “The current infrastructure, however, does not meet the community’s demands, leaving many residents with insufficient opportunity to engage in this invigorating and accessible sport.”

Diane Johnson, 60, began playing tennis in junior high. She moved to Brookline more than two decades ago and has been playing at Amory ever since, she said. She likes the softer surface that slows the ball and is easy on the joints.

“One of the players I met pretty early on when I moved to Brookline was in her 80s. She just put down her racquet at 92,” she said..

Johnson also likes the camaraderie that Amory players share.

“On Friday nights, it’s not unusual for there to be a whole group gathered around the picnic table having snacks and a beer or something like that,” she said.

The parks department introduced its proposal for renovations to Amory Park on March 20, and discussion about paving the tennis courts began at a renovation design review committee meeting on May 1. An official outcome for the courts will be decided at the next Amory Playground Renovation Design Review Committee meeting in July, Vecchio said.

Vecchio acknowledged the petition signed by the pickleball community but said the town, which lined 26 other tennis courts for pickleball, never planned to line the Amory courts for pickleball — regardless of whether they were paved — due to the noise caused by pickleball.

For Michael Wojcik, 70, who lives in Brookline and signed the petition to pave the Amory courts, pickleball benefits an aging population by keeping people active and encouraging social interaction. With two-person teams required to play in close quarters, pickleball brings a “unique” social aspect that tennis lacks, Wojcik said.

“It almost reminds me of when I was younger and we used to get together and play pick up softball,” he said. “It’s a very sappy, loving, social kind of event. You meet a lot of people.”

Paving the Amory courts, he said, would also provide the town’s pickleball community with much needed room to grow.

“I would bet there are more pickleball players now than there are tennis players,” Wojcik said. “It would just be nice to have more space.”

Mark Nemes, who plays tennis at Amory, said the advocacy for keeping the clay courts was more about keeping clay accessible for older players than about discouraging pickleballers.

The main problem we had was the fact that [the Amory courts] would be turned into hard courts,” Nemes said. “It wasn’t as much about pickleball.”

Support for keeping the clay courts was coordinated by Friends of Amory Tennis, which serves as a liaison between Amory tennis players and town government. Seth Kaufman, an active member of the group, participated in its email campaign.

“Even though I’m firmly in the camp of clay, I do think the town has an obligation to consider all its options,” Kaufman said. “It was good to open the dialogue and make a thoughtful decision.”