Tennis Industry magazine

 

2011 Champions of Tennis

Person of the Year: Pat Freebody

Sometimes, early jobs are enjoyable, but just not that memorable compared to what happened next. A long time ago, Pat Freebody had a position in Chicago.

"It was with a manufacturer," she says vaguely, then her voice brightens, becomes sharper. "But tennis took over."

It’s probably more accurate to say Pat Freebody’s passion for tennis took over. It was the passion that she brought to all aspects of tennis — from competitive play, to the business side of the sport, to helping to guide its future through her work at the USTA — that has helped shape her life and shape the game. And it’s that continuing passion that has helped to make her RSI’s Person of the Year for 2011.

During her tenure in the sport, Freebody has been involved on all levels: athlete, club manager, coach, section executive director, World TeamTennis exec, and finally the position from which she most recently retired: a managing director of the USTA. Throughout it all, she has never lost sight of the sport’s most important and basic need: bringing in new players.

"Pat loves tennis and her impact on the sport during her career is pretty remarkable," says Kurt Kamperman, USTA’s chief executive for Community Tennis. "She is someone who has definitely made a difference in growing tennis participation in the U.S."

Motivated and Involved

Freebody was born in Melbourne, Australia, and traces of the accent still cling to her voice. She tends to recall the years in tennis by what she learned from them, and what she classifies as the most important developments during those times.

As general manager at Midtown Tennis Club in Chicago from 1980 to 1988, for example, she became acutely aware of the essential role indoor facilities could play in keeping players engaged and active throughout the year.

The community activist, with her absolute dedication to growing the sport, shows for a minute. "Some clubs were very fancy and expensive, but some were affordable, and they were the ones who were willing to work things out so that people could play."

And that sentiment, says Kirk Anderson, director of recreational coaches and programs at USTA, is one of the most telling. "Pat has always been great at encouraging and supporting the absolute beginner and has always found fun ways to keep them motivated, happy and involved."

The implementation of the National Tennis Rating Program (NTRP) in the early 1980s was another development Freebody advocated. "In the beginning, there were no levels, so this was a wonderful thing, a huge thing for adults. You could find someone at your level and play and have fun, and actually have competition. From that came the adult leagues."

The first national league championships were held at Midtown, and Freebody recalls having to buy court time back from regular players in order to host the tournament. "We had 18 courts," she notes, "and that was enough back then. Now you could never do that. You’d need at least 25 to 30 courts just to host the divisions."

In 1989, Freebody became executive director of World TeamTennis, where she would stay until 1992. "Pat shared Billie Jean King’s vision and passion for tennis as a team sport where men and women could work together, compete equally and have fun," recalls WTT national director Delaine Mast, whom Freebody originally hired in the 1980s to help build rec leagues. "Today, over 500,000 players have played in the WTT Recreational Leagues, and Pat helped it all begin."

Recalling her years at WTT, Freebody laughs. "I remember what it was like getting players to accept the tiebreaker. We really worked with that, and it was a big breakthrough. Of course, I didn’t say people understood it, I just said they accepted it."

The fact that Freebody could get people behind what seemed to be a radical new rule, says Karen Ford of USTA Serves, was indicative one of her greatest strengths. "She knew how to manage people, and she was the one who could always get a group to work together toward a common goal."

Technology Advocate

Freebody worked as executive director of the USTA’s Midwest Section from 1993 to 1996, then moved to the USTA’s national office in White Plains, N.Y. There, says Kamperman, she was instrumental in "just about everything on the Community Tennis side of the house." As managing director, she was charged with overseeing meetings and with managing USTA Leagues, Junior Team Tennis and Flex Leagues, wheelchair tennis and adult tournaments.

Implementing technology on every level became a personal goal since she saw it as the doorway through which more players could enter the game. An initial program known as Touch Tone Tennis allowed players to register for events and programs over the phone. Today, TennisLink enables online tournament registrations. Freebody was also instrumental in helping USTA launch mobile applications allowing players to sign up for leagues and tournaments using Smartphones, her final accomplishment before retiring.

"I know we used to live in a simpler time, but we’ve come a long way, and this makes things so much easier," she says. "Before, if someone had two or three kids, and the kids wanted to be involved in different tournaments, the parents would have to drive them all over and register them for things. Now you get can online and use your credit card."

Throughout her career in the industry, Freebody has been honored for everything from her skill as an athlete (she and doubles partner Billie Jean King won two USTA Gold Balls in 1986 and 1987, and she received district, section and national rankings in the U.S. and national rankings in Australia), to her dedication to the sport itself. She won the USTA Merit Award in 1976 for her work with junior players, and in 1978 became the first woman president of the Chicago District.

In 1986, Freebody won the USTA Midwest’s Stanley Malless Award and coached the U.S. Tennis Team at the Tokyo World Games. In 1989, she was honored with Midwest’s Mel Bergman Award in recognition of more than 10 years of continuous and distinguished service. She was also presented the Western Tennis Association’s 20-year Service Award and in 2003, was inducted into the Midwest Section’s Hall of Fame.

“Pat always did a great job, no matter what her role in tennis, and she always managed to have a good time in the process,” says PTR CEO Dan Santorum. “She’s made a difference in our industry.”

Bringing in New Players

But throughout her journey, Freebody never forgot the importance of ushering in the next generation. Early on, she coached the Chicago District Tennis Association girls’ teams to 10 national titles, and these days, she is a strong advocate of 10 and Under Tennis and the QuickStart Tennis play
format.

"Its time has come and everyone should be getting behind it,” she says. “There is nothing better, nothing, nothing nicer than to see people learning to play, and with this, a grandparent go out and play tennis with a grandchild."

Programs that keep players in the game, she adds, are as important as the ones that bring them in. Tennis On Campus, with its WTT format, is a personal favorite and, in her opinion, "is going to bring kids back to tennis and turn them into future league players."

Freebody, says Kirk Anderson, is focused on "making sure everyone has an opportunity to play tennis. No question about that. Isn’t that what we are all about?"

One of her greatest concerns about the future of the game is that it continue to have quality instruction. "We need to do so much more to attract people to look at being a teaching professional as a career. The problem now is that a lot of young people are looking at it as a summer job, but we want them to be asking how they can get into tennis and stay there."

Sort of like Pat Freebody herself?

"I don’t know that I ever really intended that to happen," she says, laughing again. "Tennis became a habit for me. Eventually, I knew the only way out of it would be to retire."

Colleagues say for Freebody, there’s really no way out.

"She’s never going to be able to walk away," says Ford. "That would be too hard for her to do. She’s part of the sport. I hear people are already trying to pull her back in as a volunteer."

"I’m still playing," says Freebody, sounding content. "I’m still volunteering, too. I really should get started doing more of that now."

Mary Helen Sprecher

Pat Freebody’s Advice For …

Private Facility of the Year: Western R. C.

Timon Corwin gets excited when he talks about Western Racquet Club’s future. “We have an active adult league program, a lot of opportunity in 10 and Under, and plenty of room for more social tennis events, in addition to growing the competitive side. Plus, we have one of the finest teaching staffs in the Midwest,” he says of the private club in Elm Grove, Wis.

Corwin, the general manager, COO and managing director of tennis, came to the facility in early 2010, bringing with him his long and successful experience in the tennis business. “By and large, we’re a family club, but we serve all demographics,” he says. “It’s a tennis-crazy membership.” Add to that the depth of programming and staff, active competitive and recreational teams and leagues, 10 and Under Tennis programs, and more, and Western Racquet Club is RSI’s 2011 Private Facility of the Year.

In July, in an event that featured Patrick McEnroe, WRC dedicated four 36-foot courts. “Western is a leader in Wisconsin with its 36-foot courts and how it adopted 10 and Under Tennis,” says Andrea Calvert-Sanders, USTA Midwest Section director of junior & adult competition. “It’s a great example for other facilities.” The club also has more than 50 juniors who hold state and sectional rankings.

Established in 1960, WRC has 14 outdoor courts (including three clay) and four indoor, and it owns nearby Moorland Park, which has eight indoor courts. It also offers a state-of-the-art fitness center, dining and banquet facilities, swimming and more. In addition, WRC works with outside groups to provide tennis to kids in the community.

“We’re really proud of what’s happened here,” Corwin says.

— Peter Francesconi

Tips for Success

Stringer of the Year: Todd Mobley

When you think about an expert racquet stringer and customizer, “consistent,” “service-oriented,” “dependable,” “knowledgeable” and “solid” come to mind — words that describe Todd Mobley perfectly.

“Todd understands the value of customer service,” says Ron Rocchi, Wilson’s global tour equipment manager, who also runs the Wilson/Luxilon tournament stringing team. “He’s excellent at matching up players with the right strings, and the right racquets. When he’s not stringing at a pro event, he’s very much in demand with recreational players.”

Mobley — who owns and operates the company Stadium Tennis, located within James Creek Tennis Center in Cumming, Ga. — strings at professional tournaments about 14 weeks a year, including being a co-captain of the Wilson team at the US Open. “He doesn’t make mistakes, is extremely consistent, and is always on schedule,” says Rocchi.

But Mobley, who is RSI’s 2011 Stringer of the Year, also has a very successful business among rec players. “I use the same methods in my shop locally as I do on the pro tour, and I think a lot of my customers appreciate that,” he says.

A USRSA Master Racquet Technician, Mobley has been stringing for about 25 years; he started out teaching tennis full-time but “got burned out,” then started offering stringing services to different companies. He estimates he’s strung over 40,000 frames in his career. Locally, he strings 150 to 250 racquets per month (the most strung in one day is 52); on the pro tour, he’s strung 406 at one tournament alone.

“Todd’s not about the bravado,” says Rocchi. “He’s just a rock-solid fantastic stringer who wants to do well for his clients.”

— Peter Francesconi

Tips for Success

Builder/Contractor of the Year: Leslie Coatings Inc.

A lot happened in 1954. RCA made its first color TV. Bill Haley and the Comets recorded "Rock Around the Clock." And Leslie Coatings Inc. built its first asphalt tennis court.

Color TV is still the standard, rock and roll is here to stay, and so is Leslie Coatings, of Indianapolis. The company is still making tennis courts, along with running tracks and other sports facilities. So what’s the secret?

Being a pioneer, in part. The Leslie brothers (Jack, Richard and Robert) started out as homebuilders, but quickly moved into asphalt emulsion applications. When tennis started booming in the early 1970s, the company began serving the burgeoning sports construction industry.

Something else pivotal happened in the ’70s: Jerry Gray and David Nielsen came on board. Since that time, they have become co-owners, and both have served on the board of the American Sports Builders Association and become Certified Tennis Court Builders. The company has won numerous honors in ASBA’s awards program, and Gray received the Industry Merit Award, ASBA’s highest honor, in 1997.

"When you look at companies that have a real history in the industry, and have contributed so much in so many ways, one of the first that comes to mind is Leslie Coatings," says Mark Brogan, ASBA’s Tennis Division president.

While there’s no doubting the company’s standing in the industry, its principals are also known for their friendliness and sense of humor. As Nielsen likes to say, "I love this industry. I came into it 36 years ago, and I’ve spent the last 35 trying to figure out how to get back out."

— Mary Helen Sprecher

Tips for Success

Sales Rep of the Year: Lee Sponaugle

Lee Sponaugle appears to have a tough sell. He’s the director of corporate accounts for Connor Sport Court International, which manufactures a modular sports surface. In tennis, modular tile surfaces have not mounted a substantial challenge to hard, clay and grass courts.

But Sponaugle is hoping to change that, and he’s linked up with one of this sport’s most visible campaigns: 10 and Under Tennis. Sport Court, headquartered in Salt Lake City, is the “Official Modular Court” for the USTA and 10 and Under Tennis, and Sponaugle has been traveling the country selling the idea of a modular tile surface for tennis. For all his efforts, and along the way promoting 10 and Under Tennis, Sponaugle is RSI’s choice for 2011 Sales Rep of the Year.

“The ability of the USTA to use our surfaces to bring tennis to places where it typically isn’t seen makes it a win-win,” says Sponaugle, who has placed courts in nearly every USTA section. “We’re really gaining acceptability of modular as a playing surface for tennis.” Sport Court tiles also are portable, which makes it ideal for the USTA’s national SmashZone tour.

“Lee Sponaugle and Sport Court have really embraced tennis and shorter courts,” says Virgil Christian, the USTA’s director of Community Tennis Development. “He’s helped convinced Sport Court dealers that tennis is a priority.”

“It’s not just a piece of plastic you throw down — it’s how it’s engineered,” Sponaugle says. “What I see next for Sport Court is getting more involved in resurfacing.”

— Peter Francesconi

Tips for Success

Pro/Specialty Retailer of the Year: All About Tennis

Pam and Jesse Ponwith have been outfitting tennis players for nearly 20 years, and their Scottsdale, Ariz., shop, All About Tennis, is a direct reflection of their lives. Both are tennis teaching pros and top players, and their sons are top-ranked juniors. As Pam says, “We promote tennis all the time — we’re tennis junkies.”

Their 5,500-square-foot store can easily accommodate a vast inventory. They carry every major brand, and also stock racquetball and squash. An extensive demo program keeps more than 700 racquets circulating. Their five-person staff is made up of longtime employees who know their products and customers thoroughly, which Pam says makes for superior service and trust. That, coupled with competitive pricing, even in tough times, has kept their customers coming back — and it all makes the store RSI’s Pro/Specialty Retailer of the Year.

“Jesse and Pam have one of the best-looking shops in the country; it’s merchandised and presented exceptionally well,” says Greg Mason, Head’s VP of sales and marketing. “Plus they understand retailing and how to build business with key people in the community.” The store also recently improved its website design and content.

All About Tennis is involved in every corner of the Phoenix tennis market — from retailing and offering stringing services in-store and at tournaments, to grassroots efforts, fundraising for community groups, teaching tennis in schools, and sponsorship of events.

“They’ve done a wonderful job in the community as a tennis family and as a business,” says Jeffery Adams, the national sales manager for Wilson Racquet Sports. “They are very committed to the greater Scottsdale area.”

— Cynthia Sherman

Tips for Success

Tennis Advocate of the Year: Mike Woody

Kirk Anderson, director of recreational coaches and programs for the USTA, describes Mike Woody of Midland, Mich., as “one of those special lifelong learners who seems to have a knack for identifying what is important and rallying his staff and volunteers around his vision.”

The beneficiary of this vision is his community and its tennis players. For his efforts, Woody is RSI’s Tennis Advocate of the Year.

As executive director of the Midland Community Tennis Center, Woody leads a 35-member staff in delivering creative tennis programs to players of all ability levels. He is a USPTA- and PTR-certified teaching pro, as well as a USTA Master Trainer for QuickStart and Recreational Coach Workshops.

In fact, he was an early adopter of the QuickStart Tennis play format, with the innovative programming and events at his club attracting hundreds of young players. He also is a club consultant for 10 and Under Tennis, working with club owners, managers and teaching pros to involve and retain youngsters.

Woody, who manages the annual Dow Corning Tennis Classic (a USTA Pro Circuit event), was instrumental in leading the drive that resulted in Midland being named the USTA’s Best Tennis Town in 2009. The $100,000 award funded a free wheelchair tennis program, sponsored free summer lessons and organized play for adults, trained gym teachers in tennis instruction and provided equipment for 8,000 students.

“We celebrate the successes, but we don’t rest,” Woody says. “We have a great opportunity to do even better. That’s what gets me up in the morning.”

— Cindy Cantrell

Tips for Success

Junior Tennis Champ of the Year: Jeff Rothstein

David Abrams, executive director for the USTA Eastern Section, is succinct when he talks about Jeff Rothstein: “He’s one of our all-stars.”

Rothstein is the director of junior development and QuickStart Tennis at Centercourt Athletic Club in Chatham, N.J. If Abrams’ praise isn’t endorsement enough, Larry Dillon, manager for 10 and Under Tennis for USTA Eastern, says, “Jeff dramatically changed the participation of 10 and Under Tennis in his region.” Dillon, who trained Rothstein and the Centercourt team, believes the site is one of the most solid in terms of junior programming in the Eastern section, if not the country. “Jeff developed the programs, helped with the marketing — he organized the whole operation.”

Rothstein is no stranger to the industry. He found himself on court coaching in 1977 and never looked back. And he particularly enjoys working with juniors, which is why he is RSI’s 2011 Junior Tennis Champion of the Year.

“Jeff is my resource for QuickStart programming,” says Katrina Adams, executive director of the Harlem Junior Tennis Education Program. “Whenever I have a question regarding 10 and Under Tennis, I can always rely on Jeff.”

In addition to his position at Centercourt, Rothstein is a USTA high performance coach, national QuickStart trainer, current head coach for USTA Eastern summer National Zonal boys’ & girls’ 16’s team, and chair of USTA Eastern’s Junior Competition QuickStart Committee.

And he is a firm believer in 10 and Under Tennis. “We take every parameter seriously,” Rothstein says. “As a result, players progress faster and gain a stronger technical base for their future development.”

— Robin Bateman

Tips for Success

Grassroots Champion of the Year: Brenda Gilmore

Growing tennis from the ground up is something Brenda Gilmore not only knows, but lives every day. She started the Prince George’s Tennis and Education Foundation in 1993 to provide tennis and life skills to the children of Prince George’s County, Maryland. Nearly two decades later, the organization offers tennis and educational programs for every skill and ability level, and has benefited more than 30,000 children.

One thing she wants to make clear: The road to success has been a winding journey. Those getting their own programs off the ground need to hold fast to their goals and not give up, adds Gilmore, who won the prestigious Eve Kraft USTA Community Service Award in 2011.

"Sometimes people think that, ‘If we start it, they will come.’ But it’s not always that easy," says Gilmore, who is the PGTEF’s executive director. "That’s where patience, tenacity, the willingness to serve and love for the game come into play. You need to just buckle up and get ready for a ride you never expected, but one of the most rewarding you have ever experienced."

Gilmore has been a tireless advocate to students with an array of challenges. She has worked with her local Para-Olympic Academy to offer weekly tennis and life skills lessons to wheelchair students, and with the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission to facilitate the training of tennis professionals and offer Junior Team Tennis and Wheelchair Tennis across the county.

Her message that "tennis is one of the coolest sports out there" obviously resonates. Many graduates of her program have returned as instructors, teaching her lessons to the next generation.

— Mary Helen Sprecher

Tips for Success

Municipal Facility of the Year: Roger Scott T.C.

To say the Roger Scott Tennis Center has a lot going on is like saying Novak Djokovic had just an “OK” year on the pro tour. The largest tennis facility in Pensacola, Fla., with 18 hard courts and 10 clay courts (all lighted), RSTC is a hotbed of tennis programming for players of all ages and abilities. Bruce Caton is the director of tennis, and he and his talented staff of seven pros administer adult and junior clinics, leagues (24 USTA league teams), 10 and Under Tennis programming (12 of the hard courts have permanent 10U lines), private lessons, a junior academy and much more. A free junior clinic every summer attracts 200 to 300 kids.

The facility has numerous tournaments for players of all ages and hosts many charity events, including, in January, the 10th Annual Pink Ribbon Tennis Tournament to help fight breast cancer. RSTC, which was the 2007 USTA Florida Facility of the Year, also hosts the Pensacola Futures Championships, National Open tourneys for juniors, and the large Pensacola Open Wheelchair tennis tournament, among other events. The tennis center also has two backboards and a pro shop that offers stringing.

With its vast array of programming and events, you’d think the Roger Scott Tennis Center has enough going on. But Caton’s motto is, “Surround yourself with good people and then get out of the way.” So the improvements just keep on coming — yet another reason the center is RSI’s 2011 Municipal Facility of the Year.

— Cynthia Sherman

Tips for Success

Park & Rec Agency of the Year: Tualatin Hills

When it comes to developing grassroots tennis programs and cultivating relationships with tennis organizations, it’s hard to beat the Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation District. THPRD covers 111 tennis courts at 36 sites and serves 220,000 people within a 55-mile radius in the Beaverton, Ore., area.

“Tualatin is our go-to organization for all our programs,” says Ruth Turner, director of community tennis for the USTA Pacific Northwest Section. And it’s this devotion to tennis that has made THPRD the inaugural winner of RSI’s Park & Rec Agency of the Year Award.

THPRD’s general manager, Doug Menke, has a history rooted in tennis. He has served on numerous local, district and section USTA committees, and currently he is on the USTA’s national Tennis in the Parks Committee. He also encourages all his employees to develop relationships in the community. “There is no better way to understanding community needs than by being active in the community,” he says.

Since THPRD is a stand-alone agency, free from the pull of other municipal services, it can concentrate all its energy and resources on parks and recreation. In addition, the agency has received awards six years in a row for its financial management.

As far as promoting and growing tennis, THPRD’s “connections” are what it’s all about — the agency is hooked up with USTA staff, local tennis associations, players, facility owners and managers, teaching pros and more.

“We are one of many thriving arms of the parks district,” says THPRD tennis supervisor Brian Leahy, “but tennis doesn’t get lost in the shuffle.”

— Robin Bateman

Tips for Success

Wheelchair Tennis Champion of the Year: Jeremiah Yolkut

If Jeremiah Yolkut has a specialty, it’s getting things to run smoothly. “That’s what I love doing — making things go off without a hitch,” he says. One of the things he helps to a smooth ride is wheelchair tennis.

Yolkut, the USTA’s manager of competitive play and technical programs, has been working with the USTA’s wheelchair program for the last four years. He’s had a hand in helping wheelchair events from the grassroots to the highest levels of international competition.

“Jeremiah has a passion for wheelchair tennis at all levels that rivals anyone,” says Dan James, the USTA’s national manager for wheelchair tennis.

Yolkut (at left above) has been instrumental in pushing grassroots grants for local wheelchair programs. The grants program started about three years ago and continues to grow; the USTA in 2011 increased to $50,000 the amount available for wheelchair tennis grants, which go to organizations such as CTAs, hospitals, businesses, etc.

“The grants deal with either coaching, court time, equipment or events,” says Yokut. “It’s one of the best things we do to spur growth in the community. You make a lot of connections when you’re giving out grants like this.”

But he also specializes in logistics. “What is it going to take for U.S. teams to go to international events and be successful?” he says. He deals with it all: travel, food, clothing the players will need, security, anticipating health issues, hotel relationships and more.

“Jeremiah makes it so we don’t have to worry about anything other than the tennis,” James says. “He always goes far beyond the job.”

— Peter Francesconi

Tips for Success

10 and Under Tennis Facility Developer of the Year: Hinding Tennis

Sarah Boone, club manager at the Guilford (Conn.) Racquet & Swim Club, was skeptical at first. “We’ve had a strong junior program for years and have used temporary 10 and Under lines and nets,” she says. “But now, we realize adding permanent blended lines is the next step in building the ability and confidence of our youngest players.”

Tom Hinding of Hinding Tennis in West Haven, Conn., helped convince Boone that permanent lines were the way to go, and he helped her shepherd a funding request through to the USTA. “With the grant process, the USTA is paying for 50 percent of the project [and most USTA sections also pay a portion of the lining fee], so it’s really a no-brainer for a club,” he says.

But Hinding has gone well beyond simply “suggesting” facilities add either blended lines or permanent 36- and 60-foot courts. “Tom has really taken the initiative on developing courts for 10 and Under Tennis,” says Virgil Christian, the USTA’s director of Community Tennis Development.

In New England, Hinding actively campaigns for 10 and Under Tennis. For his total involvement in the process of bringing tennis to youngsters, Hinding Tennis is the winner of RSI’s inaugural 10 and Under Tennis Facility Developer of the Year Award.

“We started educating facility owners a few years ago,” Hinding says. “There were a lot of skeptics, but today they’re putting 10 and Under lines on multiple courts. I don’t know of a single club we did this year that we didn’t do either 36- or 60-foot lines or courts. I’m really excited for the next year.”

— Peter Francesconi

Tips for Success

Public Park of the Year: Cadwalader Park

In September — after three years and some $800,000 — Cadwalader Park in Trenton, N.J., celebrated a grand “re-opening.” Hundreds of families came out to play on the new public courts. The park now has dibs on the title of “largest short-court facility in the nation.”

Cadwalader opened its courts in the early 1930s. But the original 18 tennis courts became victims of weather, wear, budget constraints and a decline in interest; 12 of the courts were converted into basketball courts. When the tennis courts showed aggressive cracks in recent years, NJTL-Trenton became concerned for player safety and spearheaded the project to bring Cadwalader back to life.

“We now have 14 36-foot, seven 60-foot and seven regular-sized courts,” says Dan Faber, executive director of NJTL-Trenton, which serves about 2,500 young players. “The community came out and embraced what we are trying to do.”

And they’re not done yet. Lights, bleachers, a learning pavilion and landscaping are still to come. The project tapped several funding sources, including local and state governments, USTA and the private sector.

“It’s great for the city,” says Dave Haggerty, the USTA’s first vice president, whose father managed the Cadwalader courts when Dave was a junior. “Now, Trenton has one of the finest junior centers in the world. The NJTL has a place to run its programs and the high school can play matches on home courts.”

The facility also provides a blueprint for other tennis centers. “It’s a combination of several things,” says Haggerty, “the number of permanent short courts, how they are used and how the project raised its money.”

— Robin Bateman

Tips for Success

Community Tennis Association of the Year: Bucks County T.A.

For the 10-year-old Bucks County Tennis Association in eastern Pennsylvania, the objective is simple: Local, low-cost tennis for everyone.

“We’ve found a niche on our public park courts,” says BCTA President Barbara Long. The BCTA runs programs, leagues and more for adults and juniors, working with 13 park and recs and other entities, which cover 18 sites. “We started 2005 with 55 participants. Now, we have more than 1,300 adults and juniors, plus another 1,323 in PE tennis, ‘play days,’ etc.”

One of BCTA’s strengths, adds Long, was “finding a market where people either didn’t have the money or the motivation to join a club. We get them to where they want to play tennis, we don’t simply promote the BCTA. And they keep coming back.”

And the emphasis is on fun. Says BCTA Secretary-Treasurer Laura Canfield, “When kids go to school the next day, they don’t tell their friends how they hit their backhand volley, they tell them about how much fun they had.”

With strong programs for all players, and a commitment to the 10 and Under Tennis initiative (BCTA helped coordinate blended lines on 55 courts in six different towns), the organization has done an outstanding job of energizing tennis — and for 2011, BCTA is RSI’s CTA of the Year.

“The residents of Bucks County are fortunate to have such an outstanding CTA,” says David Slade, the USTA’s national manager of CTAs and Tennis in the Parks. “I wish we had a CTA like the Bucks County Tennis Association in every community.”

— Peter Francesconi

Tips for Success

PTR Member of the Year: Jorge Capestany

When it comes to teaching tennis and educating fellow coaches, few people have done as much as Jorge Capestany. Capestany is the manager of the DeWitt Tennis Center on the Hope College campus in Holland, Mich., but in his 30 years in the tennis industry, he’s done so much more to help spread tennis throughout the country, and the world.

Capestany is the founder of tennisdrills.tv, a video-based site with more than 800 tennis drills and tips. The site also has over 700 subscribers from around the world. “I wanted a website focused on coaches and teaching pros, and they want drills,” he says. “A new drill in the hands of a coach is like gold.”

Capestany has been working for years to promote tennis, and to promote tennis teaching. He’s a well-known industry speaker, has written manuals on tennis, is a master trainer on the Cardio Tennis speakers team, is on Wilson’s national speakers bureau, is a USTA Recreational Coach Workshop and QuickStart trainer, and has been named Michigan Pro of the Year six times and Midwest Pro of the year twice. He’s also a Master Professional with both the PTR and USPTA. And for 2011, Capestany is RSI’s choice for PTR Member of the Year.

“Jorge is a wonderful ambassador for our sport,” says PTR CEO Dan Santorum. “He does an amazing job promoting tennis and teaching tennis.” Capestany recently opened up his club for the PTR to shoot videos on several subjects, including 10 and Under Tennis.

“The first objective is to make students have fun,” Capestany says. “Then they’ll come back often. Then they’ll get better strokes, and be better players.”

— Peter Francesconi

Tips for Success

USPTA Member of the Year: Feisal Hassan

For Feisal Hassan of Midlothian, Va., receiving the USPTA’s 2011 Alex Gordon Award for the Professional of the Year was equivalent to a lifetime achievement award. However, he isn’t nearly finished promoting the game or the industry association he loves.

“Feisal is an intensive educator. His self-confidence on the court is a result of his abilities and his strong commitment to continuing education,” says Tim Heckler, CEO of the USPTA. “His dedication and hard work to the USPTA and the tennis industry are what earned him the honor of USPTA Pro of the Year.” And for 2011, Hassan is RSI’s USPTA Member of the Year.

Hassan played tennis in his homeland of Zimbabwe before emigrating to the U.S. at age 19 to play on a tennis scholarship at Virginia Commonwealth University. A member of the USPTA for more than 20 years, he is a frequent speaker, author, tester, and member of the national education and diversity committees. He has been a USTA High Performance coach, national trainer for the QuickStart and Recreational Coaches programs, and a coach for USTA competitive training centers and USTA intersectional and zonal teams, and he is on the Cardio Tennis national speakers team.

Hassan has remained connected to his homeland as director of coaches’ education for Tennis Zimbabwe, national coach of the Junior Davis Cup for Zimbabwe, and coach of the Zimbabwe 18s national team.

He and his family are also committed to volunteering with developmentally challenged adults. “So many people helped open doors for me,” Hassan says. “Now I want to give back.”

— Cindy Cantrell

Tips for Success

High School Coaches of the Year: Jim Neal and Jim Solomon

Jim Neal (below, left) of Schenectady, N.Y., is a Vietnam veteran who gives back “because I saw so much loss when I was young.” In that spirit, he insists all boys and girls willing to commit to the Niskayuna High School tennis teams are given the opportunity to play.

Jim Solomon of West Hartford, Conn. is an English teacher who agonized over cutting players from his tennis teams until a wheelchair player inspired him to eliminate that practice altogether at Hall High School more than 20 years ago.

Neal and Solomon are the 2011 winners of the USTA’s Starfish Award for high school coaches, and in addition to their shared philosophy of inclusion, they also are co-winners of RSI’s High School Coach of the Year Award.

Jenny Irwin, tennis service representative at USTA Eastern, says Neal “employs tennis, and its many lessons, to improve and enrich the many lives that he touches.” Neal holds joint practices for his varsity and JV teams — a combined 34 boys (spring season) and 37 girls (fall season) in 2010. He emphasizes fun over winning, but demands respect and fair play.

In his 37-year coaching career, Solomon has amassed a 475-65 record and a slew of awards while making a difference in the lives of his players — 47 boys and 50 girls in 2010. Deirdre Tindall, director of community tennis at USTA New England, describes Solomon as “a tremendous role model who views tennis as a means by which to enrich the lives of his athletes.”

— Cindy Cantrell

Tips for Success

USTA Section of the Year: Middle States

The USTA Middle States section may not be the biggest (it ranks 11th in size of the USTA’s 17 sections), but it packs a powerful punch. The section encompasses Pennsylvania, Delaware, part of West Virginia and most of New Jersey, and it’s the highly integrated staff and large volunteer network that section President Jill Fonte says creates “a very high-functioning organization, with exemplary people involved.”

Within the USTA structure, the section is very much a leader. And for 2011, Middle States is RSI’s USTA Section of the Year.

Changes in the section’s bylaws have reduced the size of the board and executive committees, and term limits encourage “new blood” and fresh ideas. The section also instituted a mentoring program in which more experienced board members mentor newer members. “Leadership development is one of the cornerstones of our strategic planning,” Fonte says.

Executive Director Marlynn Orlando (at left, with Fonte) notes the section increased participation in 10 and Under Tennis by 60 percent in the past year. Middle States also ranks second among sections for the number of courts devoted to 10U, with over 250.

The section magazine, “NetPlay,” engages members with personal stories and development, and recently devoted a whole issue to 10U. Fonte says they are also looking to use the QuickStart Tennis format for beginner adult and senior play.

Hall of Fame fundraisers have been extremely successful, says Fonte, with proceeds benefitting junior programs and other community organizations. Also, the section ranks third in the number of Community Tennis Associations, with 104.

“We may be 11th in size, but we continue to do things that rank us at the top in other ways,” Orlando says. “You don’t have to be the biggest to have good things happen.”

— Cynthia Sherman

Tips for Success

Chain Retailer/Mass Merchant of the Year: PGA Tour Superstores

PGA Tour Superstores was our Chain Retailer/Mass Merchant of the Year in 2006. Since then, though, there has been one important difference: In March 2010 they hired former tennis specialty store owner Tiffany Grayson as their merchant for tennis hardgoods and footwear.

“They wanted that specialty store insight,” Grayson says. And as of November, tennis sales have been great. “Overall, our tennis business is up 38 percent year to date. We had a massive change in assortment, broadening some things and trying new things — and they paid off.”

Currently, there are 11 stores (in the Myrtle Beach, Atlanta, Phoenix, Dallas, Denver and Naples, Fla., areas), with another Florida location set to open before year’s end, then three more in 2012. Eight of the 11 stores have full-size tennis courts.

The stores also have tennis pros on staff that can give lessons, and they provide full-service stringing and racquet customization. But a key is PGA’s large assortment — “Even our smallest store has literally thousands of pieces of clothing,” Grayson adds.

The 10 and Under Tennis initiative has helped to push junior equipment sales, Grayson says, with kids’ footwear up 45 percent over last year and junior racquets up 20 percent. “Transition balls are doing amazing,” she adds. “Anything 10 and Under from an equipment standpoint is huge.”

“PGA Tour Superstore provides a tremendous shopping environment,” says Jeffery Adams, the national sales manager for Wilson Racquet Sports. “Also, they’re very involved in their communities, supporting local events.”

“We really are a tennis specialty store, just on a big footprint,” Grayson says.

— Peter Francesconi

Tips for Success

 

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