As the calendars turn from 2021 to 2022, tennis continues to thrive here in our local area. Throughout the USTA Eastern Section, this year has been extremely encouraging as we have seen tennis in all of its forms rise from the ashes of the pandemic, providing optimism for what’s to come next year.
“Heading into this year, our goal was to lend our support wherever we could, and then rebuild,” said Jenny Schnitzer, USTA Eastern’s Executive Director and CEO. “Now I think, as we head into next year, it’s about welcoming in new people, and designing programming and events that welcome more players into our Eastern family.”
Throughout the last 18 months, we have seen tennis participation skyrocket throughout the country, and that trend applies to our Section as well. Overall, tennis participation increased by 22 percent from 2019 into 2020, and the latest data reported by the Tennis Industry Association indicates that total racquet shipments increased by 40.5 percent in the first half of this year, and a 66 percent increase in string unit shipments.
All these numbers indicate a sport that is on the rise in terms of participation. The next step now for Schnitzer and her team at USTA Eastern is to ensure those new players, many of whom picked the sport up during the pandemic, continue playing in this coming year and beyond.
“Participation-wise, tennis is exploding right now, which is great. Thefacilities are crowded, and our goal moving into 2022 is to see that trend continue,” said Schnitzer. “We’re working on coming up with new social leagues and events, so we can provide something for everyone, and new players don’t have to feel the pressure of competing in a tournament or a competitive USTA league. We want to provide a stepping stone for them to remain in the sport. I hope that since people found tennis to be a fun and safe activity, that they continue to love it, and continue to play it. Hopefully, we can develop programming that helps them stick around and stay with the sport even longer.”
Schnitzer took over the position of Executive Director back in 2015, and the challenges presented by the pandemic were some of the toughest the Section has seen during her tenure. As a native New Yorker though, she was the right person to be at the helm to oversee the Section’s handling of the crisis, and leading the way in coming out of it even stronger. She grew up playing on the public courts in New York City, before 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 Myers, 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. And in 2015, she took over as Executive Director.
“What makes our Section work are the boots on the ground, and the people in the communities every day who are helping to grow the game, and that includes our volunteers,” she said. “They are the ones closest to what’s happening, and they understand what is working and what doesn’t work. So it’s important to listen to them as much as we can.” And that is what Schnitzer says is the primary objective of the Section as we head into 2022: listen.
“That means listening to the facilities, the players, the parents, the coaches, etc., and figuring out the best way to move forward,” added Schnitzer. “We have a great team here that’s always willing to do more, and we don’t know everything about tennis. So it’s imperative that we listen to the public and lend our support to where it is needed. It’s about listening and making the proper adjustments.”
Much of what the Section heard over the last year is the slow rollout of Serve Tennis, which is the USTA’s tennis management software and was designed to help bridge the gap between providers and members.
“We heard a lot about it, and it was not a successful rollout,” admitted Schnitzer. “USTA National is all over it, and they understand the importance of it. It gets better each week, so as we have gone through this year we have heard fewer complaints, which is encouraging. But it was a struggle in the beginning, and as we enter 2022 it will certainly be tightened up.”
The willingness to listen, and understand that running the Section is a collaborative effort is a major component of Schnitzer’s leadership, and is a reason to be optimistic as we enter the new year of tennis in the Eastern Section. This coming year will see the return of the in-person USTA Eastern Tennis Conference, which is a manifestation of that collaboration, with providers, coaches, players and more from all across the Section gather in one place for a weekend-long event.
In 2021, the Conference was held virtually, and while successful, having everybody physically together makes a huge difference.
“It’s very exciting,” Schnitzer said of the Eastern Conference. “Everybody gets together, they can socialize and share ideas on the best practices. It’s a great way to kick off the year and get people fired up about tennis, and discuss ways in which we can work together. It’s amazing to be able to do that, and get the year started in a positive way. The Awards Ceremony during that weekend is also so important because we get to thank all the volunteers and honor those who make our Section what it is.”
Tennis continues to thrive in our communities, and despite the struggles and bumps along the way, the resilience of the community, and passion of its members have helped the game establish sustained growth.
Schnitzer and her team at Eastern are eager to maintain that growth, and are excited for what is to come in 2022.
Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for New York Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at email@example.com