Detroit’s Palmer Park has been a tennis hotbed for decades. It’s not uncommon to see people playing even after sundown.
“We do play until we can’t see the ball anymore,” says Lee King, who played on these courts in her youth. Today, she instructs more than 200 children who enrolled in the Palmer Park Tennis Academy. Now, they can play and learn on a better surface.
The City of Detroit replaced Palmer Park’s aging tennis courts with several new asphalt surfaces painted blue and green. Funding from the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation helped pay for 9 new adult courts and 6 smaller courts for young players.
King says she’s overwhelmed.
“This is something we needed for so long. It’s beautiful.” — Lee King, Palmer Park Tennis Academy
The old courts were in disrepair after years of use. After she started the tennis academy, King says the need to replace the courts became more urgent.
“We started with about 30 kids, we’re up to about 250 now,” King says. “We’re part of the United States Tennis Association and the National Junior Tennis and Learning Foundation. We hope to expose tennis to as many Detroit children as possible.”
King’s students have been using the courts at the University of Detroit Mercy while the city installed the new playing surfaces in Palmer Park. She says she would eventually like to see some new lighting around the courts.
“It would help with safety, for one thing, and also to continue playing,” King says.
The courts — and a new playground assembled by volunteers — are among several improvements the city has made to Palmer Park over the past few years. New street lights were installed on Woodward Ave., which runs alongside the park, as well as on Merrill Plaisance Rd., which winds through it.
Read more here: Palmer Park’s New Life Began On Its Tennis Courts
Click on the audio player to hear the conversation with WDET’s Pat Batcheller, and read excerpts of the Q&A, edited for length and clarity, below.
WDET: Describe what we’re standing on.
Lee King, Palmer Park Tennis Academy: Well, it’s an asphalt base, and it’s been coated with an acrylic finish. And we picked these colors — blue and green — in particular because they represent the U.S. Open in New York. It helps us with our vision, and we’re just ecstatic about this.
How many courts are there?
There are going to be nine adult courts and six junior courts, which are smaller, for children. We’re also going to have lines for pickle ball, so we’re going to expose the facility to as many people as possible.
So you’ve got a little more work to do?
A little bit more, but we’re planning to be done Sept. 9, but three courts are ready to use right now.
You told me a few years ago that you had people who play past sundown, and there were lights here at one time. I don’t see any new fixtures yet. Is that something you hope to add?
Definitely. We want to have lights out here. It would help with safety for one thing, and also for us to continue to play, because we do play until we can’t see the ball anymore.
How many kids do you have in your academy?
About 250 right now. We teach them the fundamentals of tennis. We try to make it fun. There is some yelling at times, that’s the nature of being a coach. But it is a lot of fun. The kids enjoy it, the parents enjoy it, and I just love it.
How does this make you feel?
Oh, my goodness! It’s so exciting, I’m so pleased! This is something we needed for so long. It’s beautiful. It adds to the City of Detroit, it uplifts our spirits, and it’s a great thing for our future tennis stars coming out of Detroit.