USTA Eastern is ushering in a new era, as the association welcomes Jenny Schnitzer as its newest executive director and chief operations officer. Schnitzer will bring her two-decade plus experience to the table in the hopes of uniting the tennis community in the Eastern Section, and giving back to the sport that has given her so much in her lifetime.
Schnitzer is a New Yorker through and through, having grown up playing on the public courts in New York City, and moving on to play her collegiate tennis at St. John’s University.
“My parents would play at Inwood Park in Upper Manhattan, and that is where I first started playing and learning the game,” said Schnitzer. “I started to get involved in community programs in the parks, and eventually took a scholarship to play at St. John’s.”
While at St. John’s, beyond her accolades on the court, she majored in athletic administration, and knew she wanted to work in tennis in some capacity once her time in school was complete.
“I knew I wanted to give back to the game,” said Schnitzer.
When she was done with school, she got a call from Arvelia Mayers, a legend in the Harlem tennis community and friend of Schnitzer’s, who told her there was a position available with the USTA.
She was first hired as the school’s director for USTA Eastern, and she then moved to the position of community tennis manager, but was always involved with trying to unite the schools and community in the Eastern Section.
Two decades later, she finds herself as executive director of the organization, and still has many of the same goals in mind as she did when first hired.
“I’ve seen it all come full circle,” Schnitzer said of the organization in her time there. “We were very community-focused and were about building a solid base. Then, we became more membership-driven. We noticed after a few years, that was okay, but we had to do a better job of doing both. We had to build a base to increase membership. If you focus on one and not the other, it doesn’t work out. You have to build both up to make things work completely.”
Her primary goal is to unite the various entities that make up the tennis community in the Eastern Section, and she has several ideas on how to do this.
One initiative that USTA Eastern offers is a school’s program, which offers free training and tennis equipment for physical education teachers to use in their schools in order to get more kids into the sport of tennis.
“We think this is a great way to get more new kids playing,” Schnitzer said of the program. “We teach physical education teachers how to teach the sport of tennis in their gym classes. We physically go in and provide them with training and they get racquets and a tennis-based curriculum. After that, we help get them to start and maintain after-school tennis programs.”
Building on the idea of uniting the community, Schnitzer and her colleagues at USTA Eastern want to involve everyone, from high school players to club pros, to help drive these programs to success.
“From there, we also want the whole community to get involved,” Schnitzer added. “We are looking at the colleges, clubs, high school teams, etc. We want them to give back and mentor these kids, and get them loving tennis, and following through on programs. We don’t want to just give these kids a taste, but want to carve a pathway for them to get to the level they want to achieve.”
Another major goal of Schnitzer’s is to reach out to the Millennial Generation and incorporate programs for them to stay involved in the sport.
She cited New York City’s Battle of the Boroughs Tournament as one such event that can help sustain the interest of the Millennial demographic.
“Those kids who play Division I tennis and come back after graduation, there really is nothing for them when they come back from school,” Schnitzer said. “We want to make it fun again and more accessible to everyone and add to the social aspect of tennis.”
With all of these ideas and initiatives, the overall goal of the organization will be to bring the community together so we can all reap the benefits of the sport. It can be difficult to do with so many different business and facilities, but it is an objective they are determined to accomplish.
“We have to build the dots in order to connect the dots,” she said. “That starts with getting out into the community. Finding areas that are ripe and ready … getting people together, putting a plan together and seeing what we can do as a team. If we build that base, it is going to benefit everybody.”
Schnitzer’s goal is simple, build a strong grassroots base of a solid tennis community and cultivate that base to continue to grow and sustain the sport in the Eastern Section.
“There are some good things happening, but we can do a lot more,” said Schnitzer. “I think what we really want to do is take things a step further. We want to try and reach down and build those communities, and make sure everyone has the same goal in mind and everyone works together. It’s not going to grow if we don’t grow. We need to set our differences aside so it can benefit everyone.”
USTA Eastern is there to benefit everyone in the Section, and it’s doors are open to help. The onus is now on the businesses and clubs to come to the table, because when everyone in the community works together, the growth of the sport in the Eastern Section can be boundless.