Growing the Game in Hamburg
Every year, the town of Hamburg offered tennis programming twice: for six weeks outdoors during the summer months, and then again at an indoor gym in winter.
But 2020 was a year like no other.
With many other youth sports on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Hamburg officials endeavored to extend their outdoor tennis operation into the fall, to both bridge the gap between seasonal programming for the first time as well as provide parents a safe physical activity for their kids.
Of course, given the town’s geographic location just south of Buffalo in Western New York, they’d have to act fast before temperatures put their vision on ice. As Marty Denecke, Hamburg’s Head of Youth, Recreation and Senior Services, notes, “With our climate, anything scheduled later than October would likely not work out too well!”
To make the plan a reality, Denecke collaborated with Joe Steger—USTA Eastern’s Tennis Service Representative for Western and Northern New York—to apply for a Growing Tennis Together Eastern Support Grant. Using money from the grant, Denecke was able to purchase personal protective equipment (PPE) and racquets, as well as bring in Eastern clinician and USTA National trainer Michelle Skelley to lead the instruction. Skelley has led Hamburg’s summer and winter clinics for many years. “The grant allowed us to do an outdoor program in the early fall,” Denecke says simply.
That program became an unequivocal hit. Feedback from parents was overwhelmingly positive—even after on one occasion, notes Denecke, chilly conditions sent moms and dads shivering back to their cars while kids gladly and excitedly toughed it out on the courts. “Michelle had so much fresh energy that she made it a huge success,” Denecke says. “Parents let her know how much they appreciated the opportunity for their children to continue with tennis beyond the summer.”
The fall program is just one example of how the town has worked over the last few years to grow access to the sport in the community. In addition to the winter gym program, Denecke’s department recently partnered with the Hamburg Racquet Club to offer more advanced residents the opportunity to play during the colder months. Denecke hopes this relationship will continue; he estimates participation in Hamburg’s tennis offerings have grown 10 percent each year for the last five years, and he’s anxious to continue the trend.
“We are putting together a comprehensive program that ultimately will create opportunities for all of our participants to advance to the level they desire,” Denecke says. “For children in our programs, we would like to offer some form of tennis programming year-round that includes introductory skill development, advanced learning, in-house competition and travel or tournament opportunities. [And] although we are not far along with our adult programming, we are also very interested in rebooting those programs as part of our comprehensive package.”
For Denecke, investing in the sport is not just a boon for tennis fans in the community. It also benefits his entire organization.
“Success breeds success,” he says. “When leaders within our department see how the quality of the tennis programs have increased, they are motivated to do the same within their own areas of responsibility.”
And Denecke specifically cites Skelley, as well as USTA support, for boosting that quality.
“The USTA has been a consistent resource for our tennis programming,” he says. “Staff training, equipment grants and discounts, program grants, lesson plans and program formatting outlines make our jobs much easier. Joe is in constant contact with us to make sure all of our tennis needs are covered. His dedicated efforts, attention to our program and nurturing oversight has paid great dividends!”