Organizer of the Month
December 1, 2018
Each month, USTA Eastern selects one passionate advocate who has made unique
contributions within the community through tennis. This month, for only the second time, we recognize two leaders who have imparted their own love of the game on the juniors they coach.
Tennis Organizers of the Month: December 2018
Min-Ho Lee’s passion for tennis took root at a young age, when he was just a junior high school student in his native South Korea. Since then, he’s earned multiple degrees, moved to a country 6,800 miles away (settling in Albany, New York) and became a father. Through all these life changes, his love of the sport has remained a constant. Today he actively participates in USTA Eastern tournaments in the Northern Region, competing at a 3.5 level. For Lee, every match is its own unique crash course in critical thinking and analysis.ADVERTISEMENT
“I’m really trying to understand, ‘What is the strength of my opponent? What is the weakness of my opponent? How can I have a strategy to win?’” he explains. “Tennis really helps me to analyze a situation, to respond to a situation.”
It’s no surprise, then, that Lee wanted to introduce the game—and all it has to offer—to his children. Seven years ago, Lee decided to form a Junior Team Tennis (JTT) squad on which his nine-year-old daughter, Christine, could compete. (JTT is a co-ed program in which kids 6-18 play competitive tennis in a team format.) Lee liked the idea of Christine playing JTT because he thought she could continue to develop her skillset for the sport while still having fun with a group of her friends. The team stuck together through multiple seasons, with varying levels of success. Then, in July, everything clicked. Christine and her pals—now all high schoolers—won Eastern’s JTT Sectionals in their division and advanced to Nationals in Orlando, Florida. It’s the first time in ten years a JTT team from the Northern region has gone on to compete at Nationals on behalf of Eastern.
So what was the formula for success in 2018? “The kids are grown up now, they’ve matured,” Lee notes. “But most importantly, Alex joined as a captain.”
Alex Van Cott discovered tennis by chance. On a vacation in Utah, Van Cott’s parents needed to find something for their young son to do to keep him occupied while they went hiking. They ended up having him take a tennis lesson during that time, and when the family returned home to New York, Van Cott asked if there was any way he could continue with the sport. From there, Van Cott took off. He traveled and competed on the USTA Junior circuit, and eventually went on to play for Tulane University.
“It was really an organic process of just enjoying it, then putting more time into it, and then having some good results,” he says now.
After graduating from Tulane, Van Cott went to work for his first coach at Sportime Schenectady, where Lee’s JTT team, now called the Sportime Acers, practiced. Van Cott spent a lot of time helping out the kids on the Acers individually, so it seemed only natural he would step into more of a captain role. The results speak for themselves.
“The biggest thing I tried to do was get them to understand the idea of playing on a team and working together, cheering each other on and supporting each other,” Van Cott says. “I think they started to realize that when they did their best, [it’s because] they were all on the same page.”
Lee notes that Van Cott also placed a greater emphasis on competition. “I was perhaps a little too generous with them,” he adds with a laugh. “I was saying ‘Oh, winning is important, but I just want to have a good team.’ Alex really worked on making everyone more competitive.”
Facing some of the toughest JTT teams across the country, the Acers fought hard and ended up finishing a respectable twelfth at Nationals. But the biggest reward may have been when one of their team members, Ricky Dartawan, won the boys’ sportsmanship award for the division.
“Ricky’s always been a hard worker and a nice kid,” Van Cott says. “It was nice to see that a lot of the coaches at Nationals saw the same thing that I see in him: That he has a good attitude and is always nice to the opponent even though he wants to win and is a competitor. I’m happy that the Acers are recognized not only for our tennis on the court, but also for having good attitudes and playing the game the right way.”