2021 USTA Eastern Woman of the Year Recipient: Darcy Cobb
Darcy Cobb has been named USTA Eastern’s 2021 Tennis Woman of the Year for her long record of service to the USTA League program in the Eastern Section, as well as her tireless efforts to grow the game in New York City.
It started with a cancellation. Cobb’s husband held a standing tennis appointment with a friend each week, and on one occasion, the friend couldn’t make it. So Cobb joined her husband at Brooklyn’s Prospect Park courts instead, and there she saw information about a so-called day league hanging up on the wall.
“It had all these ladies’ names on it, and I knew a couple of the women, so [later] I asked them what it was,” Cobb remembers. “They said ‘Oh it’s a lot of fun. We go play during the day, we take our kids, they have childcare. We have a little lunch afterwards.’ At the time, I worked out of my home, and my schedule was flexible. So I started playing in this day league.”
Not long after, Cobb helped the woman who ran the day league launch the USTA League program in their little corner of Brooklyn. Cobb served as a captain for one of the teams, named the Racqueteers. The group rocketed to success right out of the gate, reaching the USTA Eastern Sectional Championships the first two years they competed.
“Back then, League play wasn’t as [intense] as it is now,” Cobb says. “We were just in it for the camaraderie and the competition. We had 12 women on that team, and we really got to be close. We’re still close to this day. One of my doubles partners on that team from 30 plus years ago is still one of my best friends. So it's the relationships that you build with your team members. That to me is what the league program is about.”
Cobb’s local league coordinator took note of how organized Cobb was as a captain and recommended that she become a coordinator herself. She decided to take on the contract role and held the position for the next 10 years.
“In New York City back then, you did it for the love of the game because we just got a stipend for expenses,” Cobb says. “[But] I loved it. My master’s degree was in conflict resolution, and that really came in handy. A lot of what you hear as a coordinator is ‘Well, he said this’ or ‘Well, he said that,’ or, ‘He's making bad line calls.’ And you just have to listen to people, figure out how to make them feel better and resolve the issue.”
While serving in this capacity for USTA Eastern, Cobb accepted another job working for the Prospect Park Alliance. In this gig—which provided her with her “first paychecks in the tennis world”—Cobb ran junior tournaments out of Prospect Park’s facilities and assisted with the adult programming. She also became a founding member of the Metrotennis Community Tennis Association (CTA) during this time. Incorporated in 2002, Cobb and others formed the CTA to more efficiently run USTA Leagues in the New York City area. But the organization eventually developed other tennis offerings, including local competitions. Cobb—who has served multiple non-consecutive terms as Metrotennis’s president—conceived of one such event in which players and clubs battled against each other within each respective borough. The winners of each would face off in the interborough Mayor’s Cup. The event is still around, though it is now known as the Battle of the Boroughs.
“They’re doing it differently today,” Cobb says. “But I love that it’s still going.”
In 2006, USTA Eastern informed Cobb of an opening in its Leagues department, an opportunity she just couldn’t pass up.
“It was bittersweet, because I loved what I was doing at Prospect Park,” she says. “But then I knew that ultimately my real passion was the Leagues program, and working directly for that would be very special. So I took the job as an assistant in the department, and then after about a year, I moved into the section league coordinator position.”
In this role, Cobb oversaw around 50 local league coordinators across the section. With over ten years under her belt as a local coordinator herself, she intuitively possessed a strong sense of what she needed to do to be successful.
“You've got to support the people that are on the front lines,” she says. “Mostly I just wanted them to feel like they were absolutely supported, and that we all enforced the rules uniformly.”
During her tenure, Cobb also developed many of the rules and regulations that are still central to the Eastern-specific program today.
“I'm not one that wants to have tons and tons of rules,” she says. “But we also needed to be sensible, so that we could make it fun for everybody and make everybody feel like they had a chance.”
In 2011, Cobb moved on from the Eastern position to accept a job with the National Leagues staff. There, she was part of the team that ran the USTA Leagues National Championships and worked the flagship event for many years. Of course, as she is quick to note, “you can take the girl out of Eastern, but you can’t take Eastern out of the girl.” In 2015, 20 or so years after she made her League debut with the Racqueteers—and nearly as many working for the program itself—Cobb was part of an Eastern Sectionals-winning team and got to represent the section at Nationals as a player for the very first time.
“It was just so exciting,” Cobb recalls. “I had to talk to my bosses, and they determined that I could play and work the event…I ended up getting to play one match. It was 104 degrees in Palm Springs. And the women I played against were a good 30 years younger than me. So needless to say I did not do very well. But I still can say I got to play at Nationals.”
Overall, Cobb is beyond satisfied that much of her life has been dedicated to helping develop a program that has personally brought her so much joy.
“[Witnessing] the growth of USTA Leagues over the years, both throughout the section and nationally, is a real positive,” she says. “The fact that the program is still thriving after 40 plus years is a positive. I’m happy I had a minute role in helping ensure that it survived.”
Photos courtesy Darcy Cobb