What a Night!
The evening of Monday, March 2, was “Tennis Night in America,” and throughout the country the sport was celebrated as never before. The showcase event was the BNP Paribas Showdown for the Billie Jean King Cup, which featured Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic. The event was broadcast live across the country on HBO, providing an inspirational centerpiece for a host of other activities, including the USTA’s first-ever national youth registration initiative.
Tens of thousands of children and their parents took part in the celebration. More than 750 facilities, in all 50 states and 17 USTA sections, hosted youth registration night events designed to get kids ages 6–18 to sign up for spring and summer leagues.
“We were excited about the possibilities of what Tennis Night in America could be, but this truly exceeded our expectations,” said Kurt Kamperman, the USTA’s Chief Executive, Community Tennis. “The enthusiasm we saw and heard from kids, parents and fans throughout our 17 sections was a wonderful testament to the resurgence our sport has been experiencing at every level.”
Here are some of the highlights:
A Tennis Night in America event drew more than 300 kids to the Midtown Tennis Club after invitations were sent to schools and parks departments. Kids were treated to hot dogs and soft drinks at a local restaurant before moving to Midtown, where the younger kids were introduced to the QuickStart Tennis play format and the older kids hit with teaching pros on standard-size courts. The HBO telecast from Madison Square Garden was viewed on a giant screen and the telecast cut in to feature the activities of the Midtown event twice. “We’re making follow-up calls to the attendees, inviting them to look into tennis opportunities around Chicago,” says Michael Mahoney, Midtown vice president and general manager.
About 160 kids attended dual events at the Ashe-Buchholz Tennis Center and Bryan Park. Organizers staged a QuickStart Tennis tournament and a clinic by the University of Miami women’s team. The sponsoring Greater Miami Tennis & Education Foundation signed up parents to financially support its “Adopt-A-Player” program for tournament-level players. The evening was capped by a viewing party for the Madison Square Garden matches. “We wanted our kids to witness how players like Serena and Venus handle themselves with class and sportsmanship,” says Thomas Simmons, executive director of the Greater Miami Tennis & Education Foundation.
Organizers in this Philadelphia suburb went off court to a Wal-Mart parking lot. “We knew we’d find a lot of people who wouldn’t normally even think of tennis or might be intimidated by its old country-club image,” says Barbara Long, president of the Bucks County Tennis Association, Inc. It worked. More than 100 kids took part.
The Barnes Tennis Center had all of its 25 courts going with seven clinics for kids from beginners to nationally ranked juniors “and every level in between,” says Eric Mann, the center’s adult programs director. “Most were already USTA members, but the first-timers took USTA applications to take advantage of a discount we offered. It was a great way for kids of all ages and levels to come together to celebrate tennis.”
A media campaign that included radio, newspaper and billboard advertising helped draw more than 100 kids to the event at the Diamondhead Tennis World Racquet Club. About 70 percent of the attendees had never picked up a racquet before, according to Steve Garman, tennis director at the club. There was QuickStart Tennis for younger kids, and drills for teenagers. “It was a bigger success than we thought,” Garman says, adding that he had a dozen new tennis students the following week.
Kamperman is bullish about the future: “We look forward to maintaining the momentum of this great event throughout the rest of the year,” he says, “as well as making Tennis Night in America and annual event for years to come.”