GLEN RIDGE, NJ — Freeman Tennis Courts is having another popular year, according to court manager Peter DeCapua, with Glen Ridge and Bloomfield residents among an increasing membership drawn from all Essex County and New York.
“It’s been a great year,” he said in a telephone interview earlier this week. “There’s been an increase in membership to 160.”
Nine years ago, when he started at the facility, there were about 50 members.
“There are various reasons why we have a great turnout,” he said. “The courts are in pristine condition. Also, the mayor and council and Recreation Director Jim Cowan give me everything I need. But mainly, after every two hours, the courts get watered, rolled, brushed and relined.”
There are six clay courts and one hard court. The clay courts are watered every night.
“We picked up a lot of players from the Berkeley Tennis Club, in Orange,” he said. “They have red clay. If it rains, you can’t play for three days.”
At the Freeman courts, after a rain, DeCapua said play resumes after 90 minutes. But only about 15 to 20 percent of the members are Glen Ridge residents.
“People don’t know about us,” DeCapua said. “It’s word of mouth.”
Another 10 to 15 percent are from Bloomfield, including Mayor Michael Venezia.
Two tennis players who take an active part in making the facility popular are Henry Passapera, 70, a Glen Ridge resident, and Archie Dong, 68, a Bloomfield resident. They took time away from watching a tournament match this past Sunday to speak.
“This is like paradise,” Passapera said. “Everybody comes here, there are no cliques. Everyone gets along with each other. And you can’t beat the price. I pay $80 for the season, April 1 to Oct. 31.”
Dong is not eligible for the senior discount because he does not live in Glen Ridge. He pays $330.
“It’s worth it,” he said.
Passapera said he has been a member for 20 years.
“When I came here, the place was dead,” he said.
But he and another member came up with the idea that only round-robin matches could be played before noon. If you want to schedule a match, that is played only in the afternoon. But in the morning, everyone gets to play; just show up.
“I almost always get a court,” Dong said. “Whoever donated this place said the kids get first priority.”
Currently, there is a members’ tournament being contested. It began June 1 and ends Oct. 31. Dong runs it. There are matches for mixed doubles, men’s singles and doubles. And there are plaques on a wall with the names of past winners.
Members also get together for barbecues during summer holidays. Dong is said to make great ribs, so great they are called “famous.” There is also an end-of-season party in this secret paradise.
“Trust me,” DeCapua said, “if these courts were not good, no one would play here. They’re 105 years old. It’s saying something. They’re beautiful.”