| By Long Island Tennis Magazine Staff

The USTA Eastern Section held its Annual Conference at the Renaissance Westchester Hotel in West Harrison, N.Y., bringing together members of all the section’s regions for a weekend of celebrating the year’s achievements and discuss ways to continue to improve on its initiatives.

“This year our focus was on celebrating collective success from true tennis innovators across the section,” said USTA Eastern Executive Director and COO Jenny Schnitzer. “It’s so important to us that every attendee leave with new ideas, new contacts and renewed enthusiasm for growing tennis. We have been able to measure success by the number of meaningful conversations, insightful sessions and a shared vision for the sport we love.”

For the fourth consecutive year, the Conference partnered with the United States Professional Tennis Association (USPTA) and the Professional Tennis Registry (PTR) to ensure that all the attendees came away with new ideas and focuses to help grow tennis in their respective areas.

The weekend was filled with various workshops, drills and seminars put on by renowned coaches and instructors, including tennis Hall of Famer Gigi Fernandez, who presented new and innovative ways to grow tennis in a variety of areas.

The Conference was highlighted by the Annual Meeting, as the Eastern Board reviewed its accomplishments over the last year and set goals moving forward for 2017. One of the main topics discussed was continuing to bring tennis into local schools by not only providing equipment, but instruction as well, the way other sports are taught in schools, and expanding tennis programming for adults.

“Eastern truly believes that it is our responsibility to deliver quality tennis programming at every tough point and for every age and level,” Schnitzer said. “This delivery begins at schools and continues through local opportunities for kids, new innovative programs for young adults and continued options for seniors—some of the most enthusiastic and committed players in our section. We feel energized to continue to collaborate and connect the dots at the local level to keep families and individuals engaged in tennis.”

The Annual Awards Dinner capped off night one as the Section honored the men, women and juniors who have had a positive impact in their respective regions.

Among the award winners was Whitney Kraft of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, who won the USPTA Eastern Professional of the Year Award.

“It’s always an honor to be recognized by your peers in the industry,” said Kraft. “I’m really fortunate to be surrounded by so many talented and all around dedicated tennis professionals both within the National Tennis Center campus as well as outside of Queens in the greater tennis world. The Eastern Section is a pleasure to collaborate with … Julie Bliss-Beal, Jenny Schnitzer, Rob Testa, Monica Lamura, Gustavo Loza and the rest of the team are innovative and all embody teamwork.”

The top volunteers from each region were also honored at the Dinner, and Randi Wilkins took home the award for the Regional Volunteer of the Year for the Long Island Region.

“It’s always special to receive an award from your peers for your efforts, although it’s not the motivation for me. I feel my real award is having a great turnout and enthusiastic participants for the events I am involved with that help grow tennis on Long Island,” said Wilkins, who put together Suffolk County Kids’ Day last summer which brought in more than 150 kids. “I hope people who attend these events will become as enthusiastic with the game as I am!”

Many new board members were also ushered into their new positions, including John Klenner, who is taking over as the new USTA Eastern President, a position previously held by Mark McIntyre.

“It was somewhat bittersweet to lower the gavel one last time as the past two years have been both challenging and a great deal of fun,” said McIntyre. “However, I am extremely confident that Eastern is in good hands with John Klenner at the helm. He has been our treasurer for the last eight years and has done an incredible job putting us on a solid financial footing. Moreover, he is dedicated to ensuring that we will continue to support community tennis. It’s John’s turn to lead us down the next path, which he has played an influential role in mapping out.”

George Seewagen Award was presented to the late Howie Arons of Great Neck Estates and accepted posthumously by his sons


Tennis Hall of Famer Gigi Fernandez delivers her speech on the future of the sport


USTA Eastern Executive Director and COO Jenny Schnitzer addresses the crowd


Members of the new USTA Eastern Board


The Henry Benisch Scholarship Award was presented to Claire Handa of Rockville Centre, N.Y.


Attendees take part in clinic training during the USTA Eastern Annual Meeting


The Tennis Family of the Year Award was presented to the Cruz Family of New Rochelle, N.Y.


John Klenner, takes over as USTA Eastern president from outgoing president Mark McIntyre


USTA Director-at-Large Laura Canfield recaps a successful year for USTA Eastern


A packed house was on hand to honor the award winners during the USTA Eastern Annual Awards Dinner