Bronx residents, elected officials and even a celebrity, were present to cut the ribbon on the new Cary Leeds Center Stadium on Sunday, April 9.
The new $26 million tennis stadium sits behind the New York Junior Tennis League’s Cary Leeds Center for Tennis & Learning in Crotona Park.
The stadium dedication featured Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., tennis legend Billie Jean King, and NYJTL chairman Martin Goldberg.
“For 45 years, NYJTL has been delivering services in this community,” said Goldberg. “The opportunities to help children and their families have increased exponentially now with the completion of the Cary Leeds Center.”
The stadium features two courts - the Victor Kiam Stadium Court and the Pershing Square Stadium Court - and can seat up to 800 people.
NYJTL funded the new stadium with $13 million in private funds and $13.5 million in public funding.
The new facility will help NYJTL, which has a tennis program in each of the 51 city council districts, to continue serving children throughout the Bronx and the other four boroughs.
NYJTL has been operating in the Bronx since its inception in 1971.
In addition, the organization held a professional tournament in Crotona Park for 20 years until construction began on the new stadium in 2012.
“This happens to be one of the most underserved - if not the most underserved - districts in the borough,” said Joe Ceriello, director of marketing at NYJTL. “So we thought this is where people need the most help.”
The center sits in a 3-mile radius of 30,000 children, is in walking distance from 25 schools, and is near multiple shelters.
Rafael Salamanca, councilman of the 17th district, was pleased with the arrival of the new stadium.
“We’ve already seen the great work the New York Junior Tennis League has done in teaching local kids the game of tennis and these facilities will only allow NYJTL to continue that work,” Salamanca said.
The organization, which was founded by tennis great Arthur Ashe, mentors 10,000 children annually through both tennis and character building programs, according to the league.
Ceriello said tennis is just the ‘hook’ to draw children in and teach them more than just the game.
“We deal with a lot of kids who have a lot going on in their lives and this can grab their focus and hold their attention,” he added.
“But then around tennis - which we teach in all of our programing - we introduce character development, nutrition, healthy living, academic development and education enrichment,” he also said.
For example, NYJTL has partnered with Emblem Health to teach kids better nutrition.
Also, the organization has partnered with local police for a Volley Against Violence program which supports sports as an alternative to making bad choices.
NYJTL has committed to providing 6,000 hours of free tennis annually for the community.
Ceriello said the organization plans to fund its community service programs through commercial training programs for tennis.
He said NYJTL is also in talks with the Women’s Tennis Association and the United States Tennis Association for possible professional tournaments at the new facility.