2021 USTA Eastern Organization of the Year Recipient: Lincoln Terrace Tennis Association
The Lincoln Terrace Tennis Association (LTTA), in Brooklyn, N.Y., has been named USTA Eastern’s 2021 Member Organization of the Year for its continued commitment toward delivering affordable tennis programming to the Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brownsville, Canarsie, Crown Heights, East Flatbush, East New York and Prospect Heights neighborhoods in New York City.
The LTTA—which has been in existence since the 1960s—works in coordination with the Brooklyn Parks Department and members of the New York City Council to support the 11 tennis courts in Brooklyn’s Lincoln Terrace Park. In addition to helping clean, care for, and spearhead multiple refurbishments of these courts, the organization hosts an abundance of tennis offerings year round for its members and the community-at-large—everything from clinics and one-day events for both juniors and adults to inter and intra club tournaments and competitions. Its main mission, says LTTA President Charles East, is to cultivate brand new tennis enthusiasts.
“What we do is very grassroots,” East says. “We want to introduce the sport to as many people as possible, especially young people.”
In service of that mission, the LTTA’s cornerstone initiative is its summer tennis program. The program—which debuted in 2001 under the leadership of former LTTA President Adrian Clarke, a 1983 American Tennis Association Champion and former qualifier for the US Open—invites beginners aged five and older to come out to the Lincoln Terrace courts every Saturday from May to August to learn the sport under the guidance of multiple volunteer coaches and LTTA staffers. The program has grown tremendously in the 20 years since the LTTA established it, regularly attracting upwards of 200 kids to the park. The growth is due, in large part, to the organization’s robust, “very grassroots” efforts: East regularly hangs up banners and hands out flyers at schools and churches; he’s even spoken at graduation ceremonies. And ultimately, he aims to make the experience a family affair.
“One of the things we do—and we were very successful this past summer—is convince parents who [bring their kids] to join us,” East says. “We had about 60 people in the adult program this year, and about 80% of the participants were parents who had never held a racquet before.”
So that participants can continue to refine their game during the colder New York temperatures, the LTTA offers a complementary winter program during the indoor season, which they run on four tennis courts at Brooklyn’s Match Point Mill Basin Fitness Club. Beginner adults and kids at all levels of play can sign up, and the offering is popular enough that the organization has had to limit capacity.
“It’s on a first come, first served basis,” East says.
In addition to nurturing a new generation of players, the LTTA’s programming has also changed lives. East prioritizes connecting participants with educational opportunities. He notes that the organization is able to send about ten of their exemplary students each year to Camp Eagle Hill, a summer camp in Elizaville, N.Y. College recruiters often visit Eagle Hill, and recently, an LTTA camper, JimKelly Percine, received a full scholarship to a college in Boston as a result of this meeting
Forming these connections is what East treasures the most about his work with LTTA, and what motivated him to volunteer with the organization in the first place, over 20 years ago. He grew up in Jamaica where tennis was considered a privileged sport—and owning a racquet was a great expense.
“The only thing I could do [with tennis] in Jamaica was walk by and watch people play,” East says.
He first got on a court in his early twenties, after he’d moved to the United States to attend Baruch College and then Pace University in New York City. Immediately he saw what the game could offer to those in underserved communities.
“I like to help others,” East says. “I was focusing on helping kids, getting them off the street and getting them to play a sport. And that's one of the main reasons why I got involved [in the LTTA].”
For East, growing the game with the organization in the ensuing years has been a deeply personal experience.
“Because tennis was so privileged [in Jamaica] and facilities are available here, it pushes me to try and get many more people involved in the sport,” he says.
There’s no doubt that those who run the LTTA alongside East are equally motivated. East notes that the organization is entirely volunteer-based, from the coaches who lead programming to those who work on more administrative aspects. East himself worked for many years on Wall Street while concurrently handling LTTA projects, including the management of a Lincoln Terrace court renovation from start to finish in 2014. (East presented a plan to NYC City Council member Darlene Mealy to receive funding for the improvements.)
“Nobody is paid,” he says. “It’s one of the things that most impresses me about our organization, that everybody volunteers their services, parents included.”
East’s next goal for the LTTA is to have two professional athletes come to Lincoln Terrace in the leadup to the US Open to compete in an exhibition match, so that community members can experience live, top-tier tennis up close. He also plans to continue a clinic—developed in 2021 in coordination with the USTA Eastern Metro Region Council—that offers lessons to essential workers. The objective, as always, is to reach as many potential new players as possible. People from all walks of life, he says, should know all that tennis can offer—and of course, how they can access it.
“We are pushing for our organization to be as successful as possible,” he says. “And we will continue to grow the game.”
Photos courtesy Lincoln Terrace Tennis Association