All For One?
The head of the USPTA says his organization supports forming one teaching pro group with the PTR.
By Tim Heckler
There are a handful of topics that consistently and periodically appear in tennis editorials. The most recent topic resurfaces in “A United Front” by Bruce Levine (Your Serve, August). Essentially, Bruce suggests it’s time the PTR and USPTA come together and form one organization.
I could end this entire conversation with one simple statement: USPTA couldn’t agree more. However, that would not end the curiosity as to why it is not happening.
Merging the two pro organizations is not a novel idea — especially to the officials of both groups. In 1980 and 1990 we were involved in two serious negotiations to merge. Since I was president of USPTA in 1980, I blame myself for the failure of our first attempt at unification. While there were still a few loose ends, Dennis van der Meer and I had negotiated what we both thought was a fair agreement. As president, it was my job to chair USPTA’s 45-person Executive Committee, which meets annually to ratify decisions of this magnitude that are recommended to them by our Board of Directors. I was overconfident of receiving the committee’s approval and failed to do the necessary lobbying for support of the concept ahead of time. Our association still had enough “old-school” members on the committee and it was the “loose ends” that tripped up the merger.
I assume Dennis lost a certain amount of trust in USPTA and it was not until 1990 that we again tried to negotiate a merger. Rod Dulany, USPTA president at the time, and I made several trips to Hilton Head Island to talk with Dennis, and we also discussed possible merger scenarios at other industry events. This time we paid much greater attention to “the loose ends” and getting through them was not a matter of will but in some cases a matter of law. One of the major stumbling blocks was that in order to dissolve a 501(c)(6) trade association, you must get the vote of 66 percent of the membership. We knew it would take a Herculean effort to achieve this. After more than two years of negotiating, we mutually agreed to walk away from the table for a while.
In the last 12 months, Ron Woods, Harry Gilbert (immediate past and current presidents) and our entire board have steadily increased our efforts to merge the associations. We have confidentially revealed this interest to upper management of USTA and TIA. In fact, nearly a year ago, we held a meeting with the executive board of TIA and asked them to assist in any way possible to broker a meeting between our officials and PTR’s. We also asked a common friend, Jim Loehr, who is a special friend of Dennis and Pat van der Meer, to express our sincerity on this matter and explain our deep desire to honor Dennis’ body of work. We are waiting for the answer.
You must realize how difficult it is to negotiate mergers of this magnitude. You might also wonder why Bruce and most other people did not know about the earlier attempts at merging the USPTA and PTR. The simple answer is that, for obvious reasons, no successful agreement can ever be negotiated in public. The meddling and micromanagement from those unfamiliar with the inner workings of the companies or legal complexities would create chaos.
USPTA continues to hope for a successful merger that will create one independent organization run by teaching professionals, for teaching professionals.
The benefits of a merged association are obvious — better insurance, public relations, public knowledge of teaching professionals, unified delivery force to assist industry programs and much more by virtue of size and strength of a unified voice.
Without the benefit of research, Bruce had some assessments in his article that perhaps should be clarified a little further. He said USPTA is “more serious about its business.” I believe he meant this as a compliment; however, there are those who think USPTA should be more of a club and they occasionally become critical of our business approach to the tennis industry.
USPTA, while not a union, is a trade association that will fight vigorously for things that benefit its members and enhance their livelihoods, as well as the livelihoods of all tennis professionals. This is very simply what trade associations are supposed to do. In this process, our democratic board of directors must occasionally say “no” and in these rare circumstances we earn a reputation for being protective or “businesslike.” Regardless, we’re proud to defend all tennis professionals and their roles in our industry.
An unfortunate misstatement in the article is that USTA probably had great resistance from USPTA when it developed its Recreational Coach program. The fact is that USPTA is USTA’s strongest partner in the Recreational Coach and High Performance Coach programs. We have formal agreements with USTA to fully support both of these systems, providing USTA recommends that all participants join one of the respective trade associations and that all certification be done by the pro associations. USTA has agreed to do this. USPTA has a category of membership specifically for graduates of these programs. Likewise, we are proud to have been a very important and cooperative delivery force for every USTA program including Junior Team Tennis, Tennis Welcome Centers, Cardio Tennis and now QuickStart Tennis Play Format.
It’s more than fair to say that our partnership with USTA and the industry has played an important role in tennis gaining more than 2 million new players in the past two years.
After clearing up the myths in Bruce Levine’s article, I would like to clarify one more myth. It has often been implied that Dennis van der Meer and Tim Heckler do not like each other. Nothing could be further from the truth. While I have never been enthralled with having two teaching associations in the U.S., I have known and respected Dennis since boyhood, when I first took a tennis lesson from him at age 9. I wish him only the best as an individual and would welcome any opportunity to meet with him, Pat, and our respective board representatives to discuss ways of merging the two associations.
See all articles by Tim Heckler
About the Author
Tim Heckler is CEO of USPTA.