At the USTA Eastern Long Island Region Awards Dinner, long-time tennis coach and teacher Howie Arons received one of the highest honors given out in the New York tennis community: The Vitas Gerulaitis “For the Love of Tennis” Award.
Arons is a worthy recipient of the award that bears Gerulaitis’ name. He has spent the bulk of his life in the New York tennis community, beginning in 1976 when he took over as the head coach of the Cardozo Boys Tennis program.
“I started as an English teacher, and I ultimately became dean of the school, which is one of the best high schools in New York City. I took the job as a teacher, and I got lucky that they happened to need a tennis coach,” said Arons. “I was at Cardozo at a time when tennis in the Queens area was off the charts.”
Queens and other parts of New York City was a hotbed of tennis talent in the 1970s and even into the 1980s. Players like Gerulaitis, John and Patrick McEnroe, Willie Notar and others were some of the top players in the country, all coming out of New York City.
Arons spent 36 years as an educator and a coach at Cardozo, and became one of the greatest coaches in the history of New York City high school tennis in the process. Over the course of four decades, Arons compiled a record of 554-51 and won 18 city championships.
He retired from Cardozo in 2012 after 36 years, but has not retired from being a tennis teacher and coach. Arons is currently co-director of the New York Tennis Academy at Great Neck Estates, along with Notar, and together, the two have formulated a successful junior program.
Arons says he has seen a decline in the junior game in recent years, and provided a few reasons why he thinks so.
“I just think the junior game is not as good as the junior game was in the 1980s or 1990s,” Arons said. “I don’t think the kids care as much. If you look at the scholarships being awarded, I don’t think it’s comparable to the guys in the 1970s through the 1990s. Kids were playing five or six days a week. To get a kid to play even three times a week nowadays is tough.”
A lot of this, Arons says, comes from the fact that kids are playing multiple sports at a time, and not focusing just on tennis. While playing a variety of sports helps develop a balanced athletic skill set, it can push tennis onto the back burner.
“I want a kid to strive to play Division I when he is 10-years-old,” said Arons. “I think kids are playing additional sports and not taking any one particularly seriously to a certain point. But at 11- and 12-years-old, you should be striving to be a ranked player.”
Arons also said that more players are going off to play in national tournaments, instead of staying home and playing kids in their own Section.
“I think kids today run away from their Section and play kids they don’t know,” he said. “They’re not getting the toughness of playing in their own Section.”
Arons has coached more than 80 Division I players in his time at Cardozo and knows a thing or two about getting players to the next level. His two sons, Ian and Andrew, both played at Division I schools as well.
About two years into his tenure at Cardozo, Arons was asked to run the junior program at Alley Pond Tennis Center, and that is when junior tennis became a huge part of his life.
“I got the job at Alley Pond in 1978 to run their junior program, making $8 an hour,” said Arons with a chuckle. “And then, I stayed there for 10 years, went to Bay Terrace for 20 years and then went to Great Neck. I loved getting kids ready for high school. It just became what I did and who I was.”
All his time and accomplishments in the New York tennis community have earned Arons the award named after Vitas Gerulaitis, an honor he is certainly proud to receive.
“The one thing about Vitas that made him special was his enthusiasm for life,” said Arons. “He brought intensity, as well as laughter and all kinds of things to the tennis court. The award is definitely inspiring and I am proud to receive it.”
Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for Long Island Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.