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Post & Courier (Charleston, SC)
While a small group of community members are upset over the frequently reserved tennis courts at Doty Park, town officials have clarified some of the rules about when the public can use the courts.
Parks and Recreation Manager Doyle Best told the Journal Scene Thursday that at least two of the courts at the property on North Laurel Street stay permanently reserved but that anyone can access the courts and play on them until the group that reserved the court arrives.
"For instance, if you...arrived to play tennis and court 5 was reserved for a league team practice, you...could utilize court 5 until that league team arrived," Best said via email.
Courts cannot be reserved for recreational play and are available on a first-come, first-serve basis for everyone, "unless they are reserved for town-sanctioned events" that include everything from private lessons to camps and/or tournaments, according to town officials.
The town employs one instructor, Nancy Summersett, who teaches private and free lessons; but she is the only one the town permits to use the court for private lessons.
For the most part reservations are booked and posted on site as far in advance as possible, Best said. Community members can find the listing on the facility bulletin board located in the parking lot near courts 1 and 2. Best said signage around the property points the public to the informational board.
A small group of demonstrators gathered at the park on Wednesday to protest how the town has handled an ongoing dispute connected to court use. Demonstrators said they frequently see the courts reserved without players on them and said it deters people from park use.
Louis Smith, local civil rights activist and Community Resource Center director, walked earlier in the week along the empty reserved courts 1 and 2, suggesting that his access on the reserved courts was "illegal" or against park rules. But Best said otherwise.
"While these courts are always 'reserved,' that does not mean that members of the public cannot use the courts," Best said. "If they are open, they are able to be used. However, if our tennis pro arrives to teach a lesson/clinic, etc., those using the court(s) are asked to vacate the court."
The issue over the courts was brought to the Journal Scene's attention in May, but the issue has been ongoing for years, according to parties involved.
Disputes centered on "scheduling conflicts" have occurred between Summersett and private instructor, James Martin, who taught free lessons at the park through a program for underprivileged youth, many of whom were minorities living in surrounding neighborhoods.
Martin claimed that the courts were purposefully reserved to keep him off.
The town banned Martin from the property in May. He was placed on trespass notice because the town said Martin didn't adhere to court rules and not only didn't vacate courts for groups that had reservations but that he also used "foul language" and rude behavior with various league captains.
Demonstrators chanted Wednesday for the town to reverse the ban on Martin, who is black, and said they think he's a good role model for minority youth. They also said they want Town Administrator Colin Martin to resign, to which Colin Martin has not responded.
Mayor Wiley Johnson has stated he wants to find a solution that prevents the town from having to ban anyone from the park.
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Jenna-Ley Harrison/Journal Scene