| By Steven Kaplan

With the back to school season fast approaching, Long Islanders should be proud that they have a collective ideal which emphasizes the value of education, and as a result, some of the finest schools in the world. So it's back to school in September, EXCEPT for a select few of the best young players in the area that is, if the USTA has it's say.

That's right, the USTA is suggesting that the players in their winter program might be better off receiving education by "home schooling," rather than by staying in school. How could this be? Maybe it's business expediency. Those in the Junior Development business know what impedes their business. Tournaments limit attendance at programs, so it's not surprising that the USTA conveniently suggested that players in the Flushing Program are better served by temporarily forgoing tournaments to attend the program. This is a radical departure from there previous initiative of encouraging tournament play by developing a system of gathering points by playing as many tournaments as possible. This system saw tournament attendance (as well as tournament-generated income) skyrocket. Does anyone see a pattern developing here since school gets in the way of Junior Development attendance too?

The USTA in their new role as High Performance educators do not choose to send the message "stay in school," as Arthur Ashe once so strongly advocated. Rather, they have set up their own "school" because they believe they can provide a better education or maybe they simply don't care about the consequences if they can't.

I have nothing against home schooling as a family decision mind you. I take strong exception, however, if it is an agenda-driven institutional recommendation. Ironically, Patrick McEnroe, the head of USTA Player Development, went to the best schools, Buckley, Trinity and Stanford, and improved slowly in a balanced environment on his way to the top. Sadly, times have changed.

I hope all of the sixth grade dropouts created by this program make it on the professional tennis tour. If not, then I can think of at least one organization whose conduct indicates that they have high level jobs for those with questionable educational standards.

Steven Kaplan

Steve Kaplan is the owner and managing director of Bethpage Park Tennis Center, as well as director emeritus of Lacoste Academy for New York City Parks Foundation, and executive director and founder of Serve &Return Inc. Steve has coached more than 1,100 nationally- ranked junior players, 16 New York State high school champions, two NCAA Division 1 Singles Champions, and numerous highly-ranked touring professionals. Many of the students Steve has closely mentored have gone to achieve great success as prominent members of the New York financial community, and in other prestigious professions. In 2017, Steve was awarded the Hy Zausner Lifetime Achievement Award by the USTA. He may be reached by e-mail at StevenJKaplan@aol.com.