2020 USTA Eastern Man of the Year Recipient: Daniel Burgess
Tennis instructor, loving husband and father Daniel “Danny” Burgess posthumously receives USTA Eastern’s 2020 Leslie J. FitzGibbon Tennis Man of the Year designation. Right up until his passing on September 28, 2020, Burgess exhibited remarkable leadership and was an integral member of the Long Island tennis community.
Burgess himself learned how to play at a young age, so he understood firsthand the enrichment the sport could provide at such a formative time. For over 30 years, he taught juniors through his organization, the Daniel Burgess Tennis Academy, in his hometown of Freeport, N.Y. During his six-year tenure as USTA Eastern Long Island Region President, he made outreach to potential young players a primary focus of his overall mission.
“It wasn’t about getting them to spend money to buy new racquets or take tennis lessons,” says Michael Pavlides, a longtime friend who served as Long Island Region Vice President under Burgess. “It was about playing a sport and having some fun. He was always very interested in having the board sponsor or run activities introducing kids to tennis: Kids Days and Street Fairs. He also pushed people to pursue grants—which he many times helped write—[so they could receive] financial assistance in getting tennis equipment into the hands of kids.”
Burgess himself hosted a summer camp for over 30 years, including in 2020. He often allowed kids to attend free of charge if their parents couldn’t afford the cost.
“He felt strongly that it was his responsibility to get kids onto the tennis court,” says Jacki Binder, a friend and board member of Burgess’s non-profit, Learning Institute of Tennis, Life Skills and Sportsmanship (LITLSS). “When he would see kids hanging out in the park, he would invite them to come to the court and just try. He introduced a lot of kids to tennis that way.”
With LITLSS, Burgess aimed to combine tennis with educational programming, such as after-school tutoring. The organization’s goal was to help kids not only develop strong forehands and backhands, but also leadership skills and self-respect. “That was Danny’s philosophy,” Binder says. “Use tennis as a way to help improve opportunities for people.”
In addition to his extensive efforts with children, Burgess worked tirelessly to foster a spirit of community among tennis enthusiasts across Long Island. He organized countless free clinics and was instrumental in the development of courts in the Bishop O. White Park near his home in Freeport. He also expanded the region’s tennis volunteer base.
“One of the things overlooked about Danny is that he was able to get others involved,” Pavlides says. “He wanted to empower [people] when they had ideas. Because of him, there are a lot of volunteers involved in the tennis community who wouldn’t be otherwise.”
One such person is Binder, who Burgess brought into the USTA fold in a public relations capacity. Together they worked on the creation of one of Burgess’s big goals for the region: A newsletter that would help improve communication among Long Island members and organizations and also, ultimately, celebrate the community’s achievements.
“The first issue [of On The Ball: News From LI] was published in February 2012,” Binder recalls. “It was three pages long and Danny couldn’t have been any prouder of it had it been a novel or the Nobel Prize in Literature. It has grown since its early days, both in length and subscribers, and Danny continued to be proud and excited about his ‘baby’ every time a new issue was published.”
Innovative concepts like the newsletter were a hallmark of Burgess’s leadership. Pavlides recalls that Burgess empowered him to find a way to revive the Long Island Championships, a competition in which the winningest Nassau County high school tennis team took on the winningest Suffolk County high school tennis team. The event had gone dormant after high school coaches from both counties couldn’t agree on rules.
“Danny provided the backing of the USTA LI to create the Executive Cup, an unofficial match between the two champions,” Pavlides says. “Because this event created a dialogue between the two counties, and because the event was successful, the officially-sanctioned Long Island Championship resumed.”
Even after his tenure as President, Burgess never stopped working to bring new, diverse groups into the sport; for his efforts he was awarded USTA Eastern’s Fran Osei Community Service Award in 2018. He was instrumental in securing funding for the renovation of the tennis courts at the Northport VA Medical Center so veterans could have the chance to learn how to play. He ran tennis programming for the Freeport and Merrick Police Activity Leagues. And just last year, he brought accessible tennis lessons to several local senior centers. Many participants sat in chairs and use modified equipment while Burgess fed them low-compression balls.
“He was very excited [to tell me about it],” Binder recalls. “And the seniors loved their weekly lessons. Danny was always trying to introduce tennis to those who otherwise might not be exposed to it.”
Read more about our 2020 award recipients:
Lifetime Achievement Award: Ingrid Rehwinkel
Tennis Woman of the Year: Adrienne Alteri
Tennis Organization of the Year: Empire Tennis Academy
Tennis Family of the Year: The Perry Family
Junior Courage Award: Gavin Vander Schaaf
Adult Courage Award: Mary-Margaret Sohns