By Nicholas J. Walz, USTA.com
When the play’s the thing, there are few programs in American sport that have catered to its audience like USTA League has for the past 33 years.
The country's largest recreational tennis league helps more than 335,000 players across the United States get on the court, have a good time and step up their game in a fun team setting. For the best teams, there’s always a shot at the warm-weather USTA League National Championships and a chance to take a trophy and bragging rights back to their USTA section and their hometown club, where the journey begins.
Therefore, when it was decided more than two years ago to restructure USTA League and its many divisions, it was done with considerable care. With an eye on long-term growth and a desire to provide the best possible competitive experience for players, captains, coordinators and providers, USTA League jettisoned the monikers "Senior" (50 & over) and "Super Senior" (60 & over), building the model instead around two divisions: Adult and Mixed.
"This is not a decision we made lightly; it was heavily researched and well-vetted in response to feedback from USTA League players," said Kurt Kamperman, USTA Chief Executive, Community Tennis. "We feel the new age breaks will offer something for everyone and will increase player satisfaction, thereby positioning USTA League for continued growth in the years to come."
The Adult Division consists of 18 & over, 40 & over and 55 & over leagues, while the Mixed Division continues as 18 & over, with a 40 & over national invitational set to be played in April 2014.
Also new for 2013, the Adult 40 & over league consists of two singles matches and three doubles matches, while the former "Senior" category was solely three doubles matches.
"After the initial year of the USTA League age-restructure, it’s exciting to see the competition at the USTA League National Championships and to listen to the player feedback both at the events and in the player survey," said David Schobel, Director, USTA Competitive Tennis.
USTA League participants have expressed both delight and concern on the matter of restructure, with ardent supporters on both ends of the spectrum. Schobel and his national team have fielded a volume of e-mails and phone messages in the wake of the restructure and responded in turn.
At this important juncture in USTA League history, it’s the constituents’ unwavering devotion to tennis that has remained the dependent variable, and the one that keeps Schobel inspired now, after more than 30 years on the job.
"We think that we’ve created a more homogeneous tennis environment for the players across the country," he said. "That sort of enthusiasm within this USTA League program – and the passion we all have for the sport – is going to provide us with a happier and larger player base in local league play."