Platform Tennis Changes Opposed

OCEAN PINES – Several association members came before the board last week to protest the elimination of free play trials.

Last Saturday, residents came before the Ocean Pines Association (OPA) Board of Directors to oppose the administration’s decision to eliminate free, two-week trials of platform tennis.

While General Manager John Viola said no other amenity offered extended, free play, platform tennis members argued the no-cost introductory lessons not only introduced people to the sport but brought in revenue for the association.

“If you don’t have something like that for people who don’t know the sport, how are we going to grow our membership?” said resident Mariann Russo. “I think it’s a lose-lose situation to be charging people to come and learn.”

Viola told community members he had received several emails from residents concerned about the recent changes. He said the decision to eliminate the free trials came during the budget process and at the recommendation of Recreation and Parks Director Debbie Donahue.

For her part, Donahue said changes were made based on growth at the racquet center.

Officials noted a new racquet sports manager was hired to manage the center and give lessons, of which he receives a portion of the fee.

“This year we’re looking at no free court time and being able to charge for lessons, although there are two clinics offered in April and May that are still free for new people, non-members, to learn the sport and decide if they want a membership,” she explained.

Donahue noted that while there were some exceptions, no other amenity offered free play. Officials, for example, noted that the golf’s putting greens were free to use, but that the amenity wasn’t a revenue source. Donahue added that aquatics will, on occasion, offer a free trial to help potential members decide what class level they should join.

“That’s a one-time courtesy we give them for them to find their place,” she said.

Those protesting the change, however, argued free trials introduced people to the sport.

Karen Kaplan, representing the association’s platform tennis club, said member volunteers have partnered with OPA to offer trial lessons since 1998. Those trials, she noted, have brought in 61 first-time memberships in the last two years.

“This is going to hurt us,” she said, “no matter who the manager is.”

Member Michael Leventhal argued the association had a communication problem.

He said residents had received no clear answer as to why the administration eliminated free trials.

“First, we were told there must be a ‘cost associated with it.’ Then we were told ‘it’s not in line with other amenities.’ Finally, we were told ‘a charge for lessons is a consideration as a source of revenue to support the expense of having a highly qualified manager,’” he said. “Finally, an answer that makes sense. But until the new manager is prepared to teach platform tennis and everything else we play … I suggest we keep the status quo.”

Leventhal noted that for every 10 prospects that came to the courts for free play, five signed up for membership. And while that free play totaled $140 in lost revenue, the association gained $900 in new membership fees.

“It may seem minor in the grand scheme of things, but we think it’s important …,” he said. “I believe the decision to eliminate complementary play is both arbitrary and detrimental to the HOA’s efforts to attract new membership.”

Several members ultimately asked the association to reverse its decision and continue offering free, introductory lessons.

“I really wish everyone would reconsider,” said resident Grace Chow.

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.