| By New York Tennis Magazine Staff


Each summer, the U.S. Open arrives in New York and with it brings the eyes of the entire tennis world. And because of that, local programs and community initiatives are able to be highlighted and earn proper recognition.

One of those deserving programs is City Parks Foundation, and specifically the immense tennis options they provide for so many people across all five of New York City’s boroughs. During this year’s Open, the City Parks Foundation held its annual Tennis Benefit, which honored Jean-Yves Fillion, Chief Executive Officer of BNP Paribas USA, and featured guest speaker Monica Seles, the former world number one and nine-time Grand Slam champion.

Each year, tennis legend Billie Jean King hosts the City Parks Foundation Tennis Benefit.

The event is designed to not only raise funds which helps to provide the free programming City Parks Foundation offers, but also to shine a light on the wonderful work done by the foundation throughout the city.

“City Parks Foundation is a not-for-profit that provides free sports, art and education programs in parks all over New York City,” said Mike Silverman, the Director of Sports for the City Parks Foundation. “We focus primarily on underserved communities, and the programs on the sports side are free, whether it’d be tennis, golf, track & field, soccer or fitness, and the tennis program has been around for a long time, dating back to the 1970s.”

Silverman has long been at the forefront of providing tennis programming in New York City. He started as the Tennis Director for the Parks Department in the 1980s, and when budget cuts forced the parks department to nearly eliminate the program entirely, the City Parks Foundation took it over.

“I was very fortunate, it gave me an opportunity to sort of diversify what I did with tennis, expand it to other sports as well, and do it with a not-for-profit organization, which in some ways gives us more flexibility in terms of fundraising and programming. It allows us to provide more opportunities,” he said.

New York City is home to the most public courts of any city throughout the country, and the primary goal of the City Parks Foundation is just to ensure that those courts are being put to good use, and doing so through free tennis programming, and while they do offer programs for seniors, they primarily serve the city’s youth.

It isn’t just offerings for first-time or beginner tennis players, however, as the City Parks Foundation has created a pathway for its players to move higher up as they improve.

“Our job is to keep those courts active with free programs, and that’s in a nutshell what we do,” said Silverman. “The vast majority of kids we teach are beginners, but unlike a lot of parks and recreation programs in this country, we also have a pyramid of more advanced programs. That way kids who start with us and learn in the parks can keep playing tennis as they improve, and we now run the Lacoste Academy during the summers for more advanced juniors. Some of our players have received college scholarships and even played in the U.S. Open. Our mission, first and foremost, is to get kids outdoors and active, especially after the last couple of years, and tennis is the perfect sport for that, and we’ve had a lot of great success stories over the years.”

That program also doubles as a great recruiting tool for the City Parks Foundation, as a lot of the top juniors who have come through its programming also become coaches for the beginner players during the summer months. Typically the foundation has relied on college players, gym teachers and certified professionals to teach the younger kids, and they still do, the advanced junior program has also provided job opportunities as a coach for some of the program’s players.

“We want to do more than just teach tennis,” added Silverman. “We’re always trying to tap into our alumni base, we have had so many kids come through the program and want to have them come back and support what we do, and that continues to be one of our goals we have moving forward as we head into next year.”

City Parks Foundation typically serves about 5,000 different kids throughout the five boroughs during the summer months, and while that number has come down slightly since the COVID pandemic, they expect to reach that number again next year, as the not-for-profit continues to use tennis as a vehicle to provide opportunities for so many youths in all corners of the city.

As we head into the fall and winter, the goal now is to acquire and provide indoor court time for the program’s most dedicated players. Indoor court time and its affordability, or lack thereof, is often times the primary barrier for many of these young players.

“It’s always about doing more and reaching more kids,” said Silverman.

For the last three decades, City Parks Foundation has helped provide thousands and thousands of young kids with free, quality programming, not just tennis, but also in other sports as well as educational components as well. The diverse and well-rounded program continues to be at the forefront of developing the next generation here in the great city of New York, and has been a major contributor to the growth of tennis in our communities.

“It’s really great to have New York City as our canvas, so to speak, and to be able to create programs, especially for kids and those in underserved neighborhoods,” said Silverman. “The work we do is really important, now more than ever.”