At the beginning of this year, USPTA Eastern ushered in a new era in the organization’s history as Michael Smookler was named its new President. While Smookler is new to the role of President, he takes over the position with a wealth of experience on USPTA boards dating back to 2005.
“Our goal is to try and make all of our members proud, and that is our motto for this year: USPTA Proud,” said Smookler. “I’ve tasked everyone on our board to reach out to new members this year, and try to get them to come to our events and conferences. The goal is to get more USPTA coaches involved in everything that we do, because I feel a lot of coaches don’t necessarily know all the things we have to offer.”
The USPTA provides a number of important resources for its members including teaching techniques, a job finder tool, specialty courses and more, plus its yearly events and conferences that provide not only education but also a great opportunity to network with other coaches and industry experts.
Smookler knows first-hand all the resources the organization provides as he has been a member since he graduated from Lyndon State College in Vermont. There, Smookler was a standout tennis player, serving as its captain in his senior year, and pursued a degree in Tennis Management. His coach and mentor there was Dudley Bell, who would serve as an important inspiration for Smookler.
“He was a USPTA icon,” said Smookler. “He was there from the beginning. We were very lucky to have him both as our coach, but also running the tennis management program. The first thing he told me was that every summer, I would have a different internship, which was a position in the tennis industry. One summer I was at a country club, one I was at a resort, and so on. He told me all about the USPTA and how it sets the bar high for tennis coaches, and stressed the importance of what the organization does. I was ready to take the exam once I completed college, and I became certified right after I graduated.”
Since his graduation and USPTA certification, Smookler has been in the tennis industry in management roles. He got his first director’s job at the age of 25 in his native New Jersey, and then headed back up to Vermont where he would serve as the Tennis Director at Sugarbush Resort. There, he served on the board of USPTA New England, and was in charge of hosting conferences and events for that chapter of the organization.
“That was my main responsibility while on the board there,” Smookler recalls. “I really enjoyed the camaraderie of it, and getting big names in the industry to come to the events and share differing perspectives. It’s great to get everyone together and learn from other coaches and directors.” It’s through doing that that he had the opportunity to meet many former professional players, including one that he looked up to as a kid, Guillermo Vilas.
“I had the opportunity to work with him for many years, traveling and doing clinics,” he said. “Seeing people who idolized him being able to take part in a clinic with them, and the fact that I helped create memories like that for people is very rewarding. I don’t take any of that for granted.”
After many successful years in Vermont, Smookler moved back to his home state of New Jersey a little more than a decade ago, and he now serves as the Club Manager & Tennis Director at West Orange Tennis Club. Upon returning, he was asked to join the USPTA Eastern board, and has been there since.
“This will be my first run at being the president of the organization,” he said. “We have a great team here, and there are lot of exciting things we are planning.”
Smookler will work hand-in-hand with Executive Director Paul Fontana, who has a ton of experience himself in the industry, and who has been at the helm of USPTA Eastern for many years.
“I’ve known Paul since about 2010, and we hit it off from the very beginning,” said Smookler. “I was really excited that he is staying on as executive director, and it was a good indicator for me that I was ready to take on the responsibilities as president.”
Fontana added: “We’re very excited for what’s to come, and I think what has happened over the last two years has created a paradigm shift in the tennis industry. Mike has been in a leadership role in USPTA Eastern for a long time, and now as president I think he is really motivated to do a lot of positive things for the membership, and grow the association even more than it already has.”
The team is already in the process of putting on events this year, with a conference set for May 14-15 at Saw Mill Racquet Club in Mt. Kisco. Big names such as former USTA President Katrina Adams, and Slam champion Luke Jensen are committed to speaking at the conference, and Smookler, Fontana and the USPTA Eastern team are excited for what’s to come.
“All of us on the board are tasked with getting three new people to come to the conference,” said Smookler. “There is going to be a lot of great things there including social functions, a feeding contest with prize money, trade show, educational seminars and more. The goal is to get as many USPTA coaches involved as we can, and demonstrate all of the resources we can offer and how the members can benefit.”
With participation in tennis and other racquet sports rapidly increasing over the last couple of years, the industry remains in good shape, and therefore it’s important for tennis coaches and providers to take advantage of what an organization like USPTA Eastern has to offer. The resources provided, and the reputation that comes with being USPTA certified are important for the development of any coach.
“I always tell clients when I am working with them that you get out what you put in,” said Smookler. “If you really want to improve and take advantage of this lesson, focus and do your thing. Give it your all. It’s the same with USPTA. It’s a tremendous resource, and you get out of it what you put in. And I want more of our members to take advantage of that. If we can get more of our base energized and USPTA Proud, we are going to get more coaches certified, and it improves the standard for coaches in our area.”
Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for New York Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at email@example.com