Organizer of the Month Winners – 2016
February 15, 2017
About the initiative:
Each month, USTA Eastern selects one passionate advocate who has impacted lives through tennis on a local level. It all begins with a love of the game! These individuals have inspired us with their community tennis involvement.
Tennis Organizer of the Month: December 2016
Katerina Sevcikova, of Tarrytown, N.Y., is a driven tennis coach who excels at working with all levels of players from beginner to high performance. She was chosen as USTA Eastern’s Tennis Organizer of the Month for December due to her excellence in teaching and developing tennis.
Sevcikova is currently the director of tennis at Grand Slam Tennis Club in Bedford, N.Y., where she manages all staff and programming for both children and adults. Prior to becoming director of tennis in May of 2016, Sevcikova was in charge of the club’s 10 and Under program. ADVERTISEMENT
In addition, Sevcikova, a United States Professional Tennis Association (USPTA) elite professional, coaches a wide variety of tennis players. She has been a USTA high performance coach for the past seven years and an Early Development Camp coach for three years. As part of her work as an orange and green ball Early Development Camp coach, Sevcikova teaches youth players using smaller equipment sized for their age and provides progress reports for both players and parents.
“It is very rewarding to see somebody grow and fall in love with the game,” Sevcikova said. “It makes me motivated and excited about coaching every day.”
Prior to starting her coaching career, Sevcikova, who began playing tennis at four years old, was a top 20 junior player in the Czech Republic. She played Division I tennis at the University of Missouri, where she was No. 1 in singles and doubles all four years. Sevcikova competed on the USTA Pro Circuit as well as in several USTA events. For the past seven years, Sevcikova has played as part of USTA Eastern’s Sears Cup team.
“I was a few years out of college when I first became part of the Sears Cup team,” Sevcikova said. “It was a perfect fit and I’ve built great friendships through participating and traveling with the girls. It brings back good memories from college tennis.”
Today, Sevcikova attributes her passion for coaching to her love of playing the game. She continually shares her knowledge to inspire players to try their best and have fun participating in the sport.
“I’m a little biased but I think it is one of the best sports out there because it gives players a little bit of everything: physically, mentally and socially,” Sevcikova said. “It is a sport of a lifetime that can be enjoyed at various levels.”
Tennis Organizer of the Month: November 2016
Andréa Janelis, of Babylon, N.Y., is a tennis enthusiast who introduces the game to members of her community. She was chosen as USTA Eastern’s Tennis Organizer of the Month for November as a result of her dedication to providing tennis to new audiences.
Janelis, a former high school tennis player, is the Regional Director of Therapeutic Recreation at The Bristal, an assisted living organization with facilities located in New York and New Jersey. Through her role at The Bristal, Janelis oversees the recreation departments of all 13 facilities, with each having its own recreation director.
“We all work together to make The Bristal the best it can be,” Janelis said. “Our main focus is to think outside of the box to come up with new programming the residents would not have done if they didn’t live here.”
Tennis is the newest program added to the list of options residents can participate in as part of their morning exercises once or twice a week. The Bristal is also offering the sport for its residents with dementia and Alzheimer’s on each property once a week.
“Using the smaller equipment and lower-bouncing balls allows us to be able to play inside instead of having to be outside,” Janelis said. “Some of our rooms aren’t equipped for full tennis courts, so smaller racquets and balls geared toward seniors provide a better environment for them to play.”
The Bristal first learned of the opportunity to offer tennis to its residents through the USTA from a conference, followed by a meeting with one of USTA Eastern’s Tennis Service Representatives Gustavo Loza Padilla. Shortly thereafter, Janelis worked with Padilla to set up a training hosted by USTA Eastern Clinician Joe Arias for all recreation directors at The Bristal.
“Joe was wonderful and did a great job showing how it is possible for seniors to play tennis,” Janelis said. “We held the training in September at our Westbury location and started programming in November after receiving equipment.”
Now The Bristal’s residents at all facilities have the opportunity to be active through tennis. In the future, Janelis hopes to be able to offer tennis as a competition by creating teams that travel to the other sister locations, similar to how the facilities currently compete in volleyball tournaments.
“There are a million reasons why it is important for seniors to stay active,” Janelis said. “It increases their level of cognition, keeps their bodies moving and shows they are still capable of so many things. It is up to us to provide the opportunities for them to be able to do that.”
Tennis Organizer of the Month: October 2016
Kris Chan, of Liverpool, N.Y., is an enthusiastic tennis player who shares her love of the game with both children and adults. She was chosen as USTA Eastern’s Tennis Organizer of the Month for October because of her efforts in organizing and promoting tennis throughout the Syracuse, N.Y. area.
Chan, who has been a Junior Team Tennis (JTT) coordinator in USTA Eastern’s Western Region for the past three years, provides children with a consistent opportunity to play tennis. She runs the 14U and 18U intermediate boys and girls divisions, as well as 18U girls spring and winter intermediate leagues.
“When kids play JTT they are more comfortable than they seem to be in other tennis programs,” Chan said. “They make friends during matches, learn court etiquette and sharpen their social skills.”
Some of Chan’s responsibilities include: working with clubs to set the rates for matches, forming teams, scheduling matches and hosting pre and post season events. Additionally, Chan finds captains for the teams, and helps them throughout the season.
“Each week, I make sure the captains are all set for their matches,” Chan said. “Not all of the captains play tennis, but their kids like to play, so they volunteer to help out.”
Chan initially became involved in JTT as a captain of her daughter’s team. Her daughter, now a senior in high school, is a member of her school’s varsity tennis team, a JTT team and a recreational league team.
“In order to get parents more involved in JTT, I try to start conversations with other parents at my daughter’s varsity matches,” Chan said. “I invite parents to come play with their kids, so they can get a feel for what it is like and can understand how it is played.”
In addition to her work with JTT, Chan is a dedicated league player. This year, she played on two USTA League teams and multiple non-USTA League teams, where she also captained.
“I began playing tennis 10 years ago by captaining a 2.5 league team,” Chan said. “Now, along with playing, I run several leagues for local clubs. “
Chan, who plays out of a variety of clubs in the Syracuse, N.Y. area, enjoys competing recreationally.
“Playing tennis is a great stress reliever,” Chan said. “It helps provide a nice work-life balance, and is fun to play with friends and family.”
Tennis Organizer of the Month: September 2016
Sam LaDuca, of Buffalo, N.Y., is an exceptional tennis leader in his community. He was chosen as USTA Eastern’s Tennis Organizer of the Month for September due to his success in providing fun tennis opportunities for children.
LaDuca has offered consistent tennis programming through his role as director of tennis for the Orchard Park Recreation Department for the past eight years. He introduces tennis to children by hosting Play Days, after school programs and summer programs.
“Tennis is important for kids to learn because it teaches them how to function in a group atmosphere,” LaDuca said. “Everyone has to work together, cooperate and be considerate of others.”
Through the Orchard Park Recreation Department, LaDuca holds Play Days in the spring and summer for approximately 24 children of varying ages. Each Play Day is two hours long and held on three courts. During the Play Days, children begin by participating in activity drills and relay races, then play more competitive games such as “beat the champ” and “jail break.” The remainder of the time, children hit with each other and the instructors. Parents on-site receive information about Orchard Park Recreation Department’s upcoming programs.
“We typically have the younger kids play simple games while the older kids play more advanced games,” LaDuca said. “However, the kids are allowed to play where they like so occasionally we have five-year-olds who choose to play with the older kids.”
In addition to Play Days, LaDuca leads two after school tennis programs for beginners and advanced beginners. One program, hosted by the Orchard Park Recreation Department, takes place one day a week in the fall and spring for five weeks. Another after school program is held at the Catholic Academy of West Buffalo.
“I am proud to say we have been running this program for six years and have had full enrollment for every session,” LaDuca said. “Our volunteer instructors are excellent and we have had a lot of support from the administration.”
Students in grades two through four have the opportunity to participate in the program, which is held for one hour after school one day a week for six weeks in the fall and spring. Three courts are set up across the gym floor using mini-nets, lower-bouncing tennis balls and smaller racquets. The program includes children from diverse backgrounds, and many who are new to tennis.
As part of LaDuca’s summer programming, his team hosts “Parents on the Court” during the last day of a session. Parents with children 10 and under participate in activities their children have been doing for the past few weeks. A water balloon toss with racquets is held following the interactive lesson.
“This is a big hit with the kids,” LaDuca said. “It also encourages parents and children to play tennis together.”
Tennis Organizer of the Month: August 2016
Nicholas Badini, of King’s Park, N.Y., is a devoted member of his college’s club tennis team, the University at Buffalo’s (UB) Aces. He was chosen as USTA Eastern’s Tennis Organizer of the Month for August because of his work in developing his team’s play opportunities as well as its involvement with Tennis On Campus.
Badini, who will be a senior this fall, has been a member of the UB Aces since his freshman year. During the 2015-2016 school year he led the team as president.
“I really enjoyed what the club gave to me and I wanted to give back,” Badini said. “I wanted to see what I could do for the club as leader because I knew a lot of the older members had graduated.”
As president, Badini played a role in helping create the USTA Eastern Western Region Tennis On Campus Tournament Series.
“Once I became involved in the email chain regarding the series, I wanted to get my school heavily involved,” Badini said. “I wanted to be one of the schools that hosts a major tournament.”
Badini’s goal of hosting one of the tournaments was a success, as the UB Aces held an invitational tournament in the spring of 2016 at Miller Tennis Center in Buffalo, N.Y. Through the series creation, the Western Region held approximately 10 club tennis tournaments throughout the school year with a range of four to eight teams competing in each.
“Being able to work with the executive board to run the invitational tournament has been the best experience I’ve had on the club team so far,” Badini said. “It was a landmark for the tennis club to host multiple schools and it made me feel good in knowing the club made this huge step.”
Badini, who began playing tennis in eighth grade, developed a love for the game through competing on the Long Island Lutheran High School team. He decided to stay in the game while at college to have a fun activity to look forward to outside of academics.
“Club level tennis is great because it allows you to still enjoy the sport, while not having the full commitment of a division one athlete,” Badini said. “It also allows you to progress as an individual and an athlete.”
Throughout the season, the UB Aces hold practices approximately three times a week. All of the practices are open to any student interested in participating. Two of the practices have casual formats, while one of the practices is devoted to more competitive match play. Although there are no tryouts for the competitive team that travels to play against other club teams, those who show dedication, consistency and positivity are chosen to participate.
“Whoever shows up at our practices can play,” Badini said. “As we progress through the semester we see who comes consistently, then chose the players for the competitive team.”
Tennis Organizer of the Month: July 2016
Lauren Leo, of Astoria, N.Y., is a motivating college tennis coach who provides her players with a positive team atmosphere. She was chosen as USTA Eastern’s Tennis Organizer of the Month for July because of her dedication to coaching and excellence in growing tennis.
Leo is currently the women’s head tennis coach at St. John’s University in Queens, N.Y., a role she has held since August 2015. As head coach, Leo teaches her players to compete in the moment and focus on overall strategy rather than analyze the score after each point.
"When I am coaching, I emphasize to my players that it is important to focus on the high percentage tennis,” Leo said. “I also encourage them to always maintain a positive attitude.”
Leo discovered her interest in coaching as a junior in high school competing at the USTA’s Zone Team Championships (Zonals), representing the Eastern Section. Through her experience playing at Zonals, Leo learned how tennis is a team sport, realized she wanted to share that particular aspect and became involved with coaching later in life.
“Some people think of tennis as an individual sport, but once you’re on a team, when you compete, you see your teammates putting in 100 percent and it fires you up to work even harder,” Leo said. “You want to contribute to something greater than yourself.”
Prior to her role at St. John’s, Leo was the director of tennis at Hofstra University (2013-2015) and the head men’s and women’s tennis coach at Adelphi University (2011-2013). She also coached the women’s tennis team at Hunter College (2008-2009) and was a USTA Eastern National Coach from 2005-2008. Leo continues to share the knowledge she learned as player with each athlete she coaches.
“A great coach at Zonals once asked me, ‘what’s the worst that could happen? Yes, you can lose but ultimately life is going to go on so just have fun, live in the moment and finish the match,’ ” Leo said. “This stuck with me and I have been able to share this advice with my team.”
As a former women’s tennis player at St. John’s University, Leo enjoys coaching at her alma mater. Last season, her team went 14-5 overall and finished third in the Big East Championship tournament.
“I love everything about coaching,” Leo said. “I enjoy being able to provide the same opportunities I once had as a player while giving back to the tennis community.”
Each year St. John’s University hosts a Women in Sports Day where girls in second to ninth grade come together to try different sports. Leo and her team participate, highlighting tennis as a fun play opportunity.
In addition to her work as a collegiate coach, Leo shares her love of tennis and coaching with local youth. At the end of July, Leo will travel to California to coach USTA Eastern’s Girls 18s National team. She also promotes tennis as an option for all children throughout the year.
“I think Junior Team Tennis is a great way for kids to get involved with tennis by playing on a team,” Leo said. “Kids should enjoy getting out on the tennis court and not get too stressed out about the end result.”
Tennis Organizer of the Month: June 2016
Ben Chin, of Queens, N.Y., is an avid tennis player who coordinates local play opportunities throughout the Westchester County community. He was chosen as USTA Eastern’s Tennis Organizer of the Month for June because of his significant involvement with Sets in the City Westchester, an innovative adult format for competitive and non-competitive players.
As a native of Westchester County, Chin competed on his high school tennis team before starting college where he played as part of an intramural tennis league. Following his college graduation in 2011, Chin returned home eager to continue playing tennis.
“I realized I hardly knew anyone with whom I could hit around,” Chin said. “After joining an inactive Meetup.com group for tennis players in Westchester, I decided to create a new group hoping to attract others who were interested in playing.”
It didn’t take long for Chin’s group to become a success. Starting with a handful of participants in the fall, it grew to more than 100 members in the winter. To find a consistent place to play, Chin reached out to Yonkers Tennis Center and negotiated a deal for group members.
“Becoming an organizer in the tennis community is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made,” Chin said. “I’ve met literally hundreds of great people over the years. Although I don’t live in Westchester anymore, I still find myself back in the suburbs every week to play with friends and acquaintances through the Meetup group.”
In addition to the Westchester Meetup group, Chin is the coordinator for USTA Eastern’s Sets in the City Westchester. Sets in the City is a social tennis league offered throughout the year for young adults to begin or continue playing tennis. At the inception of Sets in the City Westchester in 2015, the Meetup group exceeded 600 members, therefore providing a consistent opportunity to play and meet people through tennis.
“Sets in the City rekindled the sense of camaraderie and team spirit I used to feel back on my high school and college intramural teams,” Chin said. “It offers the best of both worlds: competition and casual play.”
When Chin is not participating in Sets in the City, he is captaining and competing on multiple USTA League teams. Last fall, he started and captained two mixed doubles teams and one men’s tri-level team. This spring, he captained two men’s teams and hopes to take on more going forward.
“I feel that USTA League is the next step after Sets in the City,” Chin said. “You move beyond the comfort zone of casual match play into a more competitive environment and you realize that the level of team spirit is also augmented. You feel like you are part of something special.”
Tennis Organizer of the Month: May 2016
Geoff Leggieri, of Burnt Hills, N.Y., is a dedicated physical education teacher and varsity tennis coach. He was chosen as USTA Eastern’s Organizer of the Month for May as a result of his significant work with high school students as well as youth players.
In his ninth season as the boys’ varsity tennis coach at Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake High School, Leggieri has built a successful program which teaches student-athletes the importance of teamwork. In addition to varsity coaching, Leggieri is the founder and director of Spartan Tennis, an instructional tennis program for students in kindergarten through eighth grade.
“The program started with around 75 participants in the summer of 2010 with kids ages five through eight,” Leggieri said. “We kept the price low year-after-year and now have about 125 kids each summer.”
Leggieri hosts Spartan Tennis with his junior varsity boys’ tennis coach Peter North along with several current and former varsity players.
“Some of the boys were trained in 10 and Under Tennis,” Leggieri said. “They really have excelled in coaching the kids. It is nice for them to continue to have a connection to the community through tennis.”
At Spartan Tennis, Leggieri and his team utilize USTA concepts to teach players of varying abilities during all summer and winter camps. Although Spartan Tennis does not have an official collaboration with other clubs in the area, the program connects participants to additional play opportunities at nearby YMCAs as well as Sportime Schenectady.
As a physical education teacher for 18 years at the Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake Central School District, Leggieri has always felt it is important to incorporate tennis into the curriculum. For the past few years, the staff has set up 18-foot 10 and Under nets in the gym where students participated in a fun tennis unit using foam balls and smaller racquets.
“We, as a staff, believe that tennis is a great lifetime sport and feel it's important to allow our classes to learn about the game, the scoring and the fun that is waiting for them on a tennis court,” Leggieri said. “The eye-hand coordination, footwork and strategy involved really keep our students engaged!”
Tennis Organizer of the Month: April 2016
Obong Akpan, of Brooklyn, N.Y., is a passionate USTA League player and advocate for tennis. He was chosen as USTA Eastern’s Tennis Organizer of the Month for April because he took his great love of tennis to the next level – not only does he have significant involvement in league tennis, he also volunteers at various Youth tennis programs in his community. He was excited to share his experiences with us to hopefully inspire other tennis enthusiasts to introduce kids to tennis. With smaller court sizes that can be set-up just about anywhere and equipment scaled to the size of kids, it’s easier than ever to get involved in your community and get more kids playing.
Akpan currently captains four USTA League teams in USTA Eastern’s Metro Region, where he organizes practices and matches approximately three times a week. A captain since 2008, Akpan also plays on several USTA League teams, tallying seven last season.
“My favorite part of USTA League is the competition,” Akpan said. “I’ve also been fortunate to meet a lot of people and make friends through playing.”
Akpan proudly volunteers at various Youth tennis programs in his community. He is a former Junior Team Tennis (JTT) coach and continually volunteers at the JTT local playoffs and Section Championships.
“My family plays a lot of tennis together but we also teach, organize and try to give back to the tennis community as much as we can," Akpan said. “It’s a great sport for kids because it allows them to socialize and have fun while providing a health benefit.”
Akpan connects his time participating in USTA League with his time volunteering at youth events. He consistently introduces his teammates to volunteer opportunities in their local communities.
“I try to recruit members of my team to coach JTT or get their kids to play on teams,” Akpan said. “It’s rewarding to watch the kids develop into good players from season-to-season.”
In addition to JTT, other opportunities to get involved include Play Days and Kids’ Tennis Clubs. Play Days introduce kids to competition in a low pressure setting where they have the chance to gain additional play experience through short, continuous matches over a two-to-three hour period. Play Days can be small and held anywhere. To host a Play Day, visit tennislink.usta.com/playdays for free resources and giveaways.
Kids’ Tennis Clubs are designed to give children the opportunity to try tennis in a safe, supportive and extracurricular setting. Visit ct.usta.com/schools to receive free information and tools to start a club. Red-foam ball play areas can be set-up in a school gym or on a black top; no courts are required.