Sports complex handoff nets ire

Tennis players say Naval Academy to end what they call lifetime memberships

February 20, 2010|By Andrea F. Siegel

Hundreds of Annapolis-area tennis players are unhappy that they're going to be bounced off the indoor courts at the Naval Academy at the end of March, when the school will cancel what the players say were billed as lifetime tennis memberships at the Brigade Sports Complex.

The players are burning up phone lines, e-mail and more, as they try to save their access to the coveted indoor courts.

"My impression is that if they don't make this right, that the Naval Academy has just created a lot of ill will in the community," BSC tennis member Donna O'Malley said.

With indoor court time in the area difficult to find, people who gave up memberships three years ago at other clubs to join the complex doubt they'll find comparable time at those places now.

O'Malley's e-mailed warning to four fellow players about the pending letter netted responses from 150 irate BSC members within 30 hours, and more have been pouring in.

The change is taking place because on March 31, the Naval Academy Athletic Association is turning the multimillion-dollar complex, which includes the courts, an ice rink and a fitness center, over to the Naval Academy.

The military bars the sale of private memberships at its facilities and limits patronage, the Naval Academy said.

Academy spokeswoman Deborah Goode said that the complex was "intended for the eventual transfer to the Department of the Navy and the benefit of the Brigade of Midshipmen."

Goode said she would have to look into whether memberships were billed as lifetime at the outset, or whether they were sold by officials who knew that they would expire after a few years.

The tennis players said they were not told when courted to join three years ago that the complex would become government property with rules that would cost them their lifetime memberships.

A 2006 article in Shipmate, the Naval Academy Alumni Association's publication, said the top-notch facilities would be open to both midshipmen and the community. The article also solicited donations. The communications director of the alumni association referred questions to the Naval Academy.

"If that is not inviting the public to join and enjoy this facility, I don't know what is," tennis member Sue Longacre said.

She said she asked BSC management why private memberships were sold at the outset if the BSC knew they were going to have to be canceled, but was told they did not know that would happen.

"So nobody looked into this before they solicited funds?" she said.

The tennis players said they paid $150 each for what they understood were lifetime memberships, and have continued to pay annual dues plus court time.

Fitness center memberships are also affected. The total number of members is about 650, Goode said.

In a letter this week to people affected, academy business director Syd W. Rodenbarger apologized for any inconvenience and said members facing cancellation would get pro-rated refunds.

The tennis players said BSC management told them in recent days that is unlikely to include the $150.

In the letter, a copy of which was provided by the academy, Rodenbarger says that the Naval Academy is developing a new "BSC patronage policy" to take effect on April 1. The policy would detail who can continue to use the facilities.

That would include nonmembers, such as the Navy Youth Hockey Association, whose home rink is at the BSC.

The organization is finishing its current season but preparing to advertise spring tryouts for its 2010-2011 season there, President Paul Peditto said.

Association officials are keeping their fingers crossed that the BSC ice still will be theirs, because the only other open nearby hockey rink is booked, he said.

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