John McEnroe Tennis Academy
  | By Kathy Miller
Copyright: Getty Images/Credit: Polka Dot Images

I have been coordinating the USTA Leagues on Long Island for 26 years. When I started, there were about 400 in the league and this number has grown to over 4,000 players. As another season comes to an end, I was thinking about some of the good experiences I’ve had or heard about from the league over the years.

I remember when the Long Island 2.5 team went to the Nationals in 2001. It was just a couple of weeks after 9/11 and a few of the women didn’t want to fly and opted not to go. The others went without a full team and were so touched by the reception they got from the staff and the other teams. At the Saturday night banquet, they received thunderous applause and a standing ovation when introduced as the New York team. The players were truly touched and it’s something they’ll always remember.

I also thought about an Annual Long Island Tennis Awards Dinner from about 15 years ago. I was asked by the Long Island board if I knew of anyone that could speak at the dinner. I suggested a league player by the name of Patty McDonald. Patty’s husband is Officer Steven McDonald who was shot and paralyzed in the line of duty as a New York City Police Officer 26 years ago. She told her story about how tennis and the friendships she made helped get her through the harder times in life. She talked about how she could go play a match and leave her real challenges off the court for a couple of hours. I remember her being a wonderful speaker and you could hear a pin drop in the room. I also remember her husband being there with the biggest smile on his face and being so proud of his wife. She was truly an inspiration.

I think about the friendships I’ve watched develop from the league. Along with the many that have bloomed, one of them is a friendship from 20 years ago. One of my teammates and I developed a close friendship where we have been there for each other for not only the loss of a parent, but the loss of a child, divorce, our children growing, getting married and us both becoming grandmothers in the last year. It’s a very special friendship to me that may not have been, had it not been for the USTA League.

There was a Long Island senior women’s team that went to Sectionals a couple of years ago where one of the players got quite a surprise. As they were waiting to go out to the courts, one of the women from the Long Island team recognized one of the opponents from the Southern Region as one of her bridesmaids from 40 years ago. They had lost touch, but now e-mail regularly.

My most recent favorite story involves my own daughter. She played on a Tri-Level team that won and went to Albany, N.Y. for the Sectionals. The men’s team that won from Long Island was there the same weekend. My daughter lived in Long Beach at the time and a guy she met there lived in Hewlett. It took the two of them going to Albany for the Tri-Level Sectionals to meet and they were just married in March of this year.

These are just a few stories that remind me of what this league is supposed to be. Stories that have brought people together and stories that have shown what team camaraderie and sportsmanship are all about. It’s sad that these stories get overshadowed with the negative side of what people can bring to this game.

From the very first week of this season, nasty and unsportsmanlike behavior started. By the third week, it was so bad that, for the very first time, I sent an e-mail to all captains reminding them that this is supposed to be fun. No one is playing for a cash prize, a car, or a trip to Hawaii!

I had complaints of matches almost getting physical (not just men’s matches), players being verbally abusive to desk staff, the usual “stalling,” bad line calls, spectators getting involved in matches and my personal favorite—a player (not a USTA league member) playing as someone else whose name appeared on the roster and not once did the people involved take responsibility for their actions. Instead, there were fingers being pointed and false accusations made against innocent people. The stories go on and on and the job of coordinating the USTA League this year became a 24/7, on-call responsibility. The three members of the Long Island Grievance Committee, who volunteer their time, also spent endless hours with all these grievances. Things were so bad this year, that they were left with no choice but to suspend multiple players.

I remember when all matches were friendly competition, where people were nice to each other and were gracious winners and gracious losers. I would get such a good feeling when I saw two teams play and saw tennis friendships budding between the teams. Now, I mostly hear about the never ending grievances, I get phone calls and e-mails constantly from captains needing to vent and I’ve been called on my cell at 10:45 p.m. while two teams are fighting asking for me to settle it. I hear how nasty people can be, the lengths people will go to manipulate schedules, playoff matches, etc. all just to win, and it makes me ask: “Where did sportsmanship go?” It makes me wonder why people are so willing to toss aside common courtesy in exchange for being the victor. Are they really the victor when they have to cheat, manipulate and be abusive to get there?

I am hoping this article isn’t pointless and players can take an honest look at themselves and ask if any of this pertains to them instead of just assuming it’s the other guy. I hope you all see the positive this League can bring like the stories above instead of so much of the negative from this past season. Don’t get me wrong, there were positives this season as well, but they get so overshadowed by the growing negatives and these situations need to be addressed.

The USTA League is a great program that has grown every year. I want to see that growth continue, and all I heard this year was the opposite. I said it in the e-mail I sent in June: This league is only as good as the attitude of the people playing in it. Please think about that statement: Who wants to rush home from work, get to a tennis match and be cheated or berated? People start to feel like, it’s just not worth it.

I write this because I love the sport and think the League is a tool to bring people together on the court for a great match and a couple of hours of fun where all the REAL difficulties in life can be put aside for a while. I am asking all of you to help me make this League all it can be!

We start with a new format next season; let’s call it a new beginning. There will be the 18-and-Over League played on two courts of singles and three courts of doubles. The 40-and-Over League will follow the same format, and the 55-and-Over which will be three courts of doubles and will be combined ratings of 6.0 (two 3.0 players or a 2.5 and 3.5), 7.0, 8.0 and 9.0. There will also be a 65-and-Over League following the same format of the 55-and-Over. All the details will be sent to everyone next February when the organizing for the upcoming season starts.

Until then, let’s really look at it as a new beginning, not only with the age and level changes, but new attitudes as well. Let’s get things back into perspective and remember how lucky we all are. This is how we get to spend our free time! We get to play this great sport, meet new people, sit and have a slice of pizza afterwards in what should be an enjoyable day/night.

Club pros have to help get this attitude out there. Your students listen to you. They follow by the example you set. Please teach and show good sportsmanship and tennis etiquette. As the USTA League grows, courts get filled at clubs, students want to take more lessons, and players look for club leagues to join. It’s in everyone’s best interest to want this league to be a success. Please remember, like I said earlier: THIS LEAGUE IS ONLY AS GOOD AS THE ATTITUDE OF THE PEOPLE PLAYING IN IT!

Good Luck to all of the Long Island teams at Sectionals!

Next up is the Tri-Level League. If you are interested in having a team or finding one, please e-mail me. Mixed-doubles will start later in the fall.

Adult teams advancing to the Sectional Championship in Albany
►Women’s 2.5–Carefree Racquet Club (Captain: Donna Hallas)

►Women’s 3.0–Point Set (Captain: Nadine Letts)

►Women’s 3.5–Eastern Athletic Blue Point (Captain: Tricia Livingston)

►Women’s 4.0–Eastern Athletic Blue Point (Captain: Jamie Stickney)

►Women’s 4.5–Rockville Racquet (Captain: Jackie Gaines)

►Women’s 5.0–Sportime Lynbrook (Captain: Tina Buschi)

►Men’s 3.0–Long Beach Tennis (Captain: Joe Esposito)

►Men’s 3.5–Rockville Racquet (Captain: Don Rodgers)

►Men’s 4.0–Rockville Racquet (Captain: Ian Shapiro/Mike Pavlides)

►Men’s 4.5–Sportime Roslyn (Captain: Art Kornblit)

►Men’s 5.0–Carefree Racquet (Captain: Scott Chesney/Andy Schwartz)

Kathy Miller is the manager at Carefree Racquet Club and is also the Adult League Coordinator for USTA/Long Island. She may be reached at kathym65@aol.com.