Grass grows through cracks in the Harpswell Neck Physical Education Association’s 56-year-old tennis courts. (DEBORAH CORNISH PHOTO)
The Harpswell Neck Physical Education Association will host a community gathering July 23 as the nonprofit continues a campaign to replace its 56-year-old tennis courts.
“It’s a fundraiser for us, but we’re looking at it as a community-building event,” said David Chipman, president of the Harpswell Neck Physical Education Association Board of Trustees. Fellow nonprofits will set up tables to share information about their services.
Visitors will enjoy hamburgers, hot dogs and ice cream. A popular local band, Leopard Girls, will perform. A young lobsterman from Orr’s Island, Jocelyne Coombs, will give a presentation about lobstering. The event will take place from noon to 3 p.m.
“Our big push right now is to replace the tennis courts,” Chipman said. “They really have deteriorated over the years, so we want to replace them completely — tear them up and replace them.” They will add pickleball lines to one court in response to that sport’s growing popularity.
HNPEA started its campaign to replace the courts in October 2018. The COVID-19 pandemic slowed progress. HNPEA needs $144,029 to replace the courts. As of June 8, $86,000 has been raised.
The Fulle family established the Harpswell Neck Physical Education Association in February 1965 with a mission to provide free opportunities for physical activity, especially for children, according to longtime Program Director Deborah Cornish. The fledgling organization leased a vacant lot from Elijah Kellogg Church for $1 a year — an agreement that continues to this day.
In the spring of 1965, the Fulles poured a concrete slab, painted lines for a tennis court, and converted a chicken coop into a hut for arts and crafts. Today, the facility is known as Fulle Field in honor of its founders.
The following summer, the members of the Harpswell Neck Physical Education Board of Trustees pooled their money to build the tennis courts on the site today. The board started a summer day camp with tennis lessons and field games, along with arts and crafts.
The tennis courts are open to the public and free to use — the only public courts in Harpswell. Even in their current condition, uneven and full of cracks, they see near-daily use by players of all ages. The courts are closed to the public during camp hours and on Sunday mornings, in deference to the church.
A young tennis student works on her game at the Harpswell Neck Physical Education Association’s public courts. (DEBORAH CORNISH PHOTO)
The same contractor that built the tennis courts in 1966 will build the new courts, with the son of the original builder at the helm. Vermont’s Advantage Tennis provided the most attractive of several estimates, according to Deborah Cornish.
Volunteers will likely handle the demolition of the old courts, and local subcontractors may donate services or provide them at a discount.
In addition to new courts, the project will address drainage and fencing, and will make the courts wheelchair-accessible.
The new courts will benefit the summer camp, which HNPEA continues to offer every July. The original camp was a free, half-day program. Today, HNPEA offers a full-day program for $300 or a half-day program for $200. HNPEA raises funds to subsidize the cost.
HNPEA charges “very low tuition compared to most summer camps,” said Martica Sawin, a former trustee who now serves as an adviser to the organization. The camp employs Cornish and counselors, but “still depends a great deal on volunteers,” Sawin added.
2022’s camp will run July 5-29 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. each weekday. Early start is available.
The camp, for grades K-6, still offers those original activities — tennis, field games, and arts and crafts — along with sports like basketball and volleyball.
Campers enjoy field trips to places like Eagle Island, while guests add fun and education. Harpswell author Jim Nelson reenacts pirate history. The Harpswell Heritage Land Trust presents hands-on programs. Chewonki’s Traveling Natural History Program brings wild animals like owls. Local landscaper Tony Cornish — the campers call him “Tony the Builder” — often follows those programs with lessons about how to build a bat house or a nesting box for owls.
Campers eat free lunch at Elijah Kellogg Church through a collaboration with the church and the Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program.
Now, HNPEA hopes the community will turn out to help finish the campaign.
“Let’s get it done,” Deborah Cornish said. “Because it’s for you — it’s for the community.”
To make a tax-deductible donation, mail a check payable to HNPEA to HNPEA, P.O. Box 24, Harpswell, ME 04079.
HNPEA also needs board members, who should be community-minded people with an interest in physical education and a desire to support the town’s children. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or go to hnpea.net.