True community happens naturally. It can’t be forced. It’s a tangible kind of energy that exists between people, unifying them, binding them to one another.

At the Peter D. Gill Memorial Park tennis courts in Milpitas, that energy, that community, is wildly present.

A group of individuals gather at these courts as many as seven times a week to engage in exercise, skill-building, and socialization.

“This is a great community here,” said player Minh Le, who has been playing at the courts since 2003. “We gather weekdays after work hours, and also weekends in the morning. Sometimes we throw a barbecue and potluck. It’s a tight group.”

 

 

At about 60-80 people, the group, who refer to themselves as the Hillview Tennis Group, is the largest community of tennis players that gather in Milpitas. They started forming organically about two decades ago. Players from all ages and backgrounds come together, motivated by their deep love of tennis.

However, this group of players may soon be displaced.

As part of the City of Milpitas’ summer recreation program, a Tennis Academy will be coming in and teaching youth lessons, taking up two of the park’s three tennis courts. Granted a permit by the City of Milpitas, the Academy plans to start teaching on June 12.

As a result, the dozens of players who have been frequenting those courts for the past two decades are worried that they will lose the community that has long served as such a positive force in their lives.

“We would have preferred for the city to come and talk to us about what was happening,” said Le. “Or at least give us notice, and let us know about what’s going on. We never had any say.”

The players learned about the Academy coming in only after they saw signs put up at the courts about the upcoming lessons. After checking with the City, they discovered that two of the courts will be occupied by the Academy, Monday-Thursday, between 4pm and 8pm — the same hours that the group plays on them.

 

 

“This has been my main court for 20 years,” said player Tan Nguyen. “I used to play and learn at the Hall Park courts behind Curtner School. And then I moved here. The group just started building, with a new person here and there, year after year. We grew.”

Tan Nguyen has been playing at the Gill courts from the very beginning, before any kind of community existed there. Players in the group refer to Nguyen as the “Captain,” saying that he has naturally stepped into the role over time. Nguyen also serves as the point person between the group and the City, informing the City whenever a light goes out, or any kinds of problems arise in the courts. He also takes it upon himself to clean and maintain the courts, week after week. He even collects $5 donations from the group, and uses that money to supply them with a never-ending flow of tennis balls.

“I’m here seven days a week,” said Nguyen, who has lived in Milpitas for over 30 years. “Without this, I don’t know what I’d do. I’m worried.”

Nguyen’s house is mere steps away from the park, and can be seen from the tennis courts. Other players mention how dedicated he is, how so much of his life revolves around this community. In fact, in the mornings, when no one is around, Nguyen often walks by the courts, tidying things up in order to ensure presentability for the players later in the day.

When the players found out about the Academy coming onto the courts, they enlisted one of their players, Michael Vu, to speak out at a May 15th City Council meeting, voicing their concerns about a public space being reserved by the City for classes. Since Vu is an attorney (in San Jose), players felt he would be a strong spokesperson for their group, although he doesn’t represent them at any official capacity.

During “public comment,” Vu proposed the idea of the City making use of the many tennis courts at Milpitas High School instead, which the public doesn’t have access to.

After Vu spoke, the City mentioned that they would look into it and see what could be done.

“On the day of the Council meeting, Director of Recreation Renee Lorentzen indicated to me that she has to wait to see the number of students who will be registering for the summer program,” said Vu. “And only then can she determine whether or not the permit can be adjusted. So maybe they’ll grant just one court instead of two courts. We’re still waiting, because we have no data or records relating to the number of students attending. I hope that before June 11, we’ll hear from the City of Milpitas. There has been no contact so far.”

 

Player Tuong Bui

 

Tuong Bui, a player at Gill Park since 2009, knows this story all too well. He used to play tennis over at the Hall Park courts, located on La Honda Drive, until the City began a recreational program there.

“At first it was okay. They took just one court. But then over time, it became two courts. Then three,” said Bui. “So we had one court left.”

Bui, along with a few dozen other players, had no choice but to migrate over to the Gill courts. And he’s now worried by the possibility of having to migrate again. Some players even bought their homes based on the close proximity to the Gill courts.

“There are other courts that we know of. But there are certain groups that go to courts and consider those their home courts,” said attorney Michael Vu. “Tennis courts are in high demand in our county and wherever you go, they’ll be occupied. At another court, we infringe on other players who usually use that court. And we don’t want to do that, because we know them and we respect their place.”
Respect among the Hillview group seems to be an important part of their community. To accommodate one another, pairs will play a set, then yield the court to other pairs who are waiting. And they will keep going back and forth, rotating, so that everyone gets ample play time.

 

When asked how he felt about the tennis group’s concerns, Mayor Rich Tran said, “Our city parks are for community recreation and should be open to the public and to the neighborhood. That kind of private class or program shouldn’t be designated at our neighborhood parks.” The Mayor also added, “As our region continues to grow in population and urbanization takes place, our park spaces are trying to keep up with the growth of the population. It’s an issue that I’m going to continue working on in Milpitas. A byproduct of this growth is this conflict that happens between residents and City-organized programs.” The City Council meeting, during Vu’s public comment, was the first time that Mayor Tran had even heard about the issue.

When asked if this was common practice, for a City to take over access of public space, Vice Mayor Marsha Grilli wrote in an email, “It is always difficult to accommodate the needs of all our residents. I don’t look at it as the City ‘taking over’ but trying to provide opportunities for our youth and their families. We hear repeatedly that we need to provide programs for the young people.”

Tan Nguyen, the “Captain”, along with other players in the group, do understand the value of teaching younger generations the sport of tennis.

“If there’s a kid who wants to learn, Tan will take the time and he’ll teach them,” said player Tuong Bui, who even occasionally brings his own kids and grandkids to the courts to play.

Every year, the Hillview Tennis Group organizes a tournament at the Gill Courts, in which all of their players get to play and compete for trophies. The plan was to host another tournament this Summer, but if things don’t change with the City’s recreational program, that tournament will be cancelled, interrupting a yearly community-building ritual that the players have always loved participating in.

Bui won a first place trophy at the 2013 tournament, an accomplishment that he is deeply proud of. He hopes the tournaments continue. 

But it was just last month when the City of Milpitas put up yet another new sign at the Gill Courts, which reads:

Gill Park Tennis Courts 

Reserved for 

City of Milpitas Recreation

Tennis Classes – Year Round 

One court will remain open 

at all times

(408)586-3225

Thank you for your cooperation 

 

 

The players at Gill Park who assumed the lessons would only be at the courts throughout the Summer are now concerned that the City will be using the courts year-round. They certainly hope this doesn’t turn out to be the case.

Players at Hall Park have also seen this new sign recently put up at their courts as well, and are wondering how this will impact them over the Summer and beyond.   

In the City of Milpitas Facilities Manual for both indoor and outdoor facilities, their Tennis Court Rules and Etiquette section reads: “City-sponsored programs have first priority on tennis courts at all times.”

The players at the Gill Courts understand this, but at the same time, they’ve been playing and helping to maintain the courts for two decades. Many players mentioned that they have no problem working with the City to figure this out, but express their disappointment over the City’s lack of communication with them about this matter from the get-go.

“The gradual development of camaraderie… the friendship among players..it’s very good,” said Michael Vu. “We have Vietnamese players, along with Indian players, and also Cambodian, Filipino, and Chinese players. There’s a variety of ethnic backgrounds here. We all met each other here on the courts and have become friends. We invite each other to our homes for parties. At the end of our tournaments, there’s a reception and we all go to a restaurant to co-mingle and socialize. For us, this is a deep-rooted community.”

Milpitas’ Recreation Services Department has no official comment at this time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rhoda Shapiro
Rhoda Shapiro works as a journalist and media consultant in the Bay Area. She has written for both the Tri-City Voice and the Mercury News, and is the founder of Chi Media Company, which works with nonprofit organizations to elevate their marketing and communication platforms. Rhoda is also an author; her first book will be published by Llewellyn Worldwide in mid-2019. Her YouTube channel, which features practices in yoga, meditation, and women’s empowerment, has amassed thousands of subscribers. Rhoda is The Milpitas Beat’s founder.

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Comments (7)

  1. Thank you so much for the article and bringing the issue to the attention of the City of Milpitas. Thank you to the City of Milpitas for the new accommodation. I have been a regular player of Hillview Tennis Group since 1999. Thankfully, it will continue to be my “Tennis Home.:

    Khanh Tran

    1. Sorry Francie, I don’t think so.

      Mr Nguyen probably did a lot to his group, however this court is belongs to public/Milpitas. He should put others (non-group) player’s perspective, not just his group.

      That is exactly NOT how a leader should run a Milpitas council, luckily we have the right person run Milpitas council. =)
      Again, private large group like Hillview Tennis group using a public group is totally wrong and lacking consideration for others.

      Even Mr Nguyen wants to teach the young kids about this sport, however he is not hired by the city. Unless he is certified USPTA coach, then it would be a different story. Of course, I am sure he can teach small kids and youth as long as no-money involved. That is why the city come in place to hire certified instructors for public.By doing that, it brings income to the city as well and promotes this sport better.

      Anyhow, Milpitas Recreation and Community authorize to use this court, actually any public Milpitas court I should say.
      That is why the city can provide classes and promote this sport to the general public. The important part is the city can pick which court to offer classes in any particular time, so the neighbor lived there also benefit with that.

      I totally agree others’s comments in regarding to this group should relocate to different courts, or notice to City to public the period they occupied. That totally makes sense.

      Imagining if you want to take your kids to play basketball, and the court closer to where u live always taken by a group, playing matches, tournament everyday, or being occupied all the time. What would u think? On your back of your mind, you would think this group pretty own this court.

      I lived near YellowStone park, this situation exactly happen in there time to time. Group of players occupied the tennis courts all days on the weekend morning. One time, police got involved, since the guy in the group almost get in fight with non-group player.
      That is just selfish behavior.

      Emily Ngo, YellowStone Park Milpitas.

  2. First of all, thanks for this article.

    I lived in the area as well and have different feelings to express about this.

    All public courts (include this one) belong to public and residents who live nearby to enjoy. They are managed by the city.

    I am sorry to say that. Group or not, trying to occupy all the courts in every Sat or Sunday morning till noon or post noon is totally selfish behaviour. (I saw this many time). Pretty much if u are not in that group u don’t have too much chance to play even u wait in line. Coz if u are not in part of group, some players would just play after one another regardless u are waiting(That happen to me). Maybe better luck to go different court instead of waiting at this court.

    All public tennis courts have rules that posted by the city on court gate entrance. How many those tennis group or individuals would follow?

    City has the complete rights to run activities on any public park(include tennis court) to promote sport for public. That is why city offers tennis lessons which instructed by hire/license instructor. Individual fee lesson that is not offered by city should not allowed on any public tennis courts at any time.

    If such a tennis group would like to use the particular court on regular base activity, they should obtain permits from the city to make reservation. That would ensure those tennis groups follow the city tennis rules and regulations. The most important part is the city as well as public would aware such a tennis group existence and the group schedule to public.

    Leader in such tennis group should follow the reservation /permit process to manage their group.

    Maybe another simple solution is to ask the city to build
    more courts for public use.

    Sincerely,
    Nick Davis

  3. Nick, well said. I agree. I am a regular tennis player in San Jose/Milpitas/Fremont area.
    I also got no luck playing in Milpitas during weekend morning in this court. So I went elsewhere awhile ago.

    Someone started a tennis group in Fremont and have permit with the city for many years that I am current in.
    Everyone follows our group rules as well as Fremont city’s tennis court rules. We let others(outsider) to hit with us as long as they wait in line. We respect others from a tennis player’s prospective. Understood everyone(in the group/not in the group) want to play and enjoy.

    Especially a large group like that, without concern others, such a selfish manner is not acceptable.
    Imagine if Milpitas has 3-4 groups like this, the leader doesn’t concern about others, occupied the court every weekend, and ran tournament every 4-5 months or he desired.
    How other players/public would get a chance to use the tennis court?

    In this case, tennis group occupied public tennis court in regular basis should get permit/reservation from the city.
    That is totally fair game. I think if the city should consider charge the group if they would over use it.

    I noticed from one of the above pics, they hung the tennis bags on the fence? did they really put hooks/clips on the wind net so they won’t get tennis bag dirty? Putting hook on the wind net on the fence even just a small one is consider damage public facility. That is not the right thing to do for this group. In our group, in day one, we have been told never touch the wind net, or put anything attach on the fence/wind net at all. We understood those are the city property.

    Regards,
    Louis

  4. I’d have to agree with Nick and Louis. Yes, the games have created lots of friendships and camaraderie for the regular players that are part of the group. On the other hand, if someone and their kids want to come by and hit some balls, I’m sure they would feel they were impinging on some private tennis courts, which they are not. Although Mr. Nguyen takes it upon himself to maintain the courts, his group probably ends up feeling that they own the courts. That is why they feel so slighted by the city taking the courts for lessons.

  5. Agree with Norm, Louis, and Nick. I also want to add my two cents.
    Maybe such a large tennis group like this Hillview Tennis group should play in private court outside Milpitas.

    Totally agree with Louis. If this large group decide to keep using this court at Hall park regular basis must reserve their time to Milpitas city/Milpitas’ Recreation Services Department. They need to put notice outside the court(Just like what the city does), so it let the public aware such group using the court on given time/day.

    Fully occupied on the weekend morning(or whatever time) or taking turn occupied and not setting up timer to play are not acceptable.(Sorry, I also saw this happen before in this group as well. Couple times they even kick out others non-group players).
    Being a tennis court-hoggers is not fair to others. That is why all the court have rules to be follow.

    Yes, I am also a tennis player, I clean the court I play and I follow the tennis court usage rules. =)
    I don’t feel like I own the court, ‘coz it belongs to public usage. It is my responsible as a player to take care of it before/after I used it.

    Again, it doesn’t mean if people live nearby the court or in part of a large tennis group, which made them own this court or try to against Milpitas’ Recreation Services Department.

    The Milpitas’ Recreation Services Department has every rights to use this kind of public court at any time. period.

    Milpitas is already very generous without charging on court usage. Some city like Mountain view, they got some court(eg:Cuesta Tennis Center) maintenance by the city regardless you are resident/non-resident they charge using it. You can call to reserve and use it.
    Of course, with the high demand tennis usage and charge-court, the city are well maintenance those court and allow people/group to setup tournament/USTA/private group/private lesson..etc.

    Agree with Nick, maybe this Hillview tennis group instead complains to mayor/Milpitas’ Recreation Services Department.
    They should propose the Milpitas city to build tennis courts with charge. Large tennis group like this can reserve this kind of court to their uses, That guarantee group like that will have court to use and the city can charge on those who use it on regular basis. Provide public/private lesson or any kind of group tournament it need to be.

    The most important is this kind of large group(like Hillview tennis group) will not occupy the public court (eg.Gill memorial park) which meant to be for public general usage only.

    Michael
    Milpitas ‘s resident

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