| By Michael Sarro
Photo credit: Jessica Stiles

On one of the most beautiful days of the year, the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center hosted the 26th Annual City Parks Foundation, Reebok Tennis Academy Tryouts. For over a decade, the City Parks Foundation and Reebok have partnered to provide local junior tennis players, the opportunities to play at a high, tournament-quality level, free of charge. In a city where tennis lessons and court time can be a big financial burden, free tournament training is literally priceless. The players at the Reebok Tennis Academy are extremely grateful for the opportunity and this can be seen by their dedication and hard work.

The tryouts for the Reebok Tennis Academy are comprised of two parts. On day one, hundreds of hopeful young junior players took the courts in hopes of making the Academy. Day one is where the players are drilled on four strokes, the forehand, the backhand, the volley and the serve. The players with the more advanced skills are asked to come back the next day where they can demonstrate their ability in greater depth by participating in fun drills and games. With hundreds of kids vying for only 50 spots, it is obvious that the competition is tough and the final selection process is based on the tryout evaluation, tournament participation, past Academy participation and family income as preference is given to those with the greatest need. When the summer program is over, the 25 most outstanding participants are selected to receive winter training.

Before the tryouts began, the participants dispersed to surrounding courts in order to get some warm up shots in. Some were doing feet work and eye drills with their parents as well as stretched out and got focused for their big tryouts. After a few minutes of warming up, the director of Sports for the City Parks Foundation, Mike Silverman, grabbed the microphone and spoke to the hundreds of hopeful attendees. He started out thanking everyone for attending and then proceeded to describe the two-day tryout. He then introduced the many coaches for the Reebok Academy.

“The Reebok Tennis Academy has produced several local top players that have gone on to play college tennis and some have even played right here, at the home of the U.S. Open, maybe one of you will be next," said Silverman. “The results of the academy speak for themselves and in order to be offered this scholarship, you have to show us that you have the desire, the ability, and the dedication to want to improve your tennis game.”

The reason why the Tennis Academy has had so much success, according to Silverman, is that, “Parents and children appreciate the opportunity that we provide for them and they are dedicated due to that opportunity given to them. They are using tennis as a tool from life and learning team-building. This academy really gives these kids an opportunity to play off each other and get to know their peers in the community.”

This will be the third year that Steve Kaplan will be director of the Academy.

"Personally, while I have participated in a small way in this program for over 20 years, I have directed the program for the last three years," said Kaplan. "I am proud to do so, despite my considerable responsibilities as owner and tennis director of Bethpage Park Tennis Center on Long Island. It is a pleasure to be involved, first, because Mike Silverman is a life-long friend and he does a tremendous job of helping to create an extraordinary number of unique opportunities for young players to improve and grow. Furthermore, the Academy players are a great group of dedicated, hard-working and enthusiastic kids.”

After Mike spoke to the kids, and introduced the kids to the staff, everyone posed for photos and then was delegated to their courts for the tryouts. This marks the 26th year where Reebok has partnered with the City Parks Foundation to offer the sponsored academy to local youth tennis players. A big thank you also goes to the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center for providing the facilities for the training of the Academy.


Credit all photos to Jessica Stiles