Organizer of the Month
February 20, 2019
Each month, USTA Eastern selects one passionate advocate who has made unique contributions within the community through tennis. This Saratoga player and volunteer has put in the work to grow the sport in his area.
IF YOU BUILD IT...
Saratoga Springs resident Dan Blanchfield’s love of tennis has spanned decades. He first picked up a racquet as a child—“It’s just an activity that worked for me from Day 1,” he says—and 55 years later, he’s still lacing up his tennis sneakers and hitting the court regularly. Now, Blanchfield is one of several local leaders working with the Saratoga Spa State Park to ensure residents (and their children) can cultivate that same love of the game for many decades to come.
Blanchfield began assisting Saratoga Spa’s tennis operation—which until recently had four Har-Tru green clay courts and four hardcourts—in the early 1990s. ADVERTISEMENT “They had a guy who would come in every spring to redress the lines on the clay courts, but they had no ongoing maintenance, they had no sprinkler system,” Blanchfield explains. He and a couple friends volunteered to help out. “Back in those days,” he says with a laugh, “we used to water these things with a garden hose.”
Blanchfield has been maintaining the courts on a volunteer basis ever since. (He even helped facilitate the installation of a sprinkler system.) In 1999, a few active community members in Saratoga Springs formed a non-profit—The Friends of Saratoga Spa State Park—to help support the park’s facilities, and, after noticing his enjoyment of the courts, asked Blanchfield to join them. Blanchfield agreed, and serves as one of the organization’s foremost tennis advocates. One of Blanchfield’s biggest goals through Friends has been to convert the four hardcourts in the park—which have become unplayable over the years—to Har-Tru clay. In 2017, Blanchfield, along with fellow Friends members and local tennis aficionados Tom Buckley and Lisa Ross, submitted a grant proposal to the NY State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. They were awarded a $75,000 matching grant for the project, which meant Blanchfield and Co. had to raise an equal amount on their own before they could receive any money.
In just five weeks, they delivered on what seemed like a daunting task. The group ultimately raised $90,000 through a mix of previously-obtained corporate grants (coordinated by local tennis pro and USTA Eastern’s 2016 Northern Region Volunteer of the Year Bill Brahler) and public philanthropy. “We were very flattered by the response and grateful that our tennis community came out and supported us,” Blanchfield says. “Without that, this could have never happened.”
Construction on the courts will begin in the spring, and the goal is that they will be ready for play before the end of summer. Blanchfield hopes that the conversion will help keep up with demand, as usage for the four existing clay courts is very high. But looking forward he also hopes the additions will create more space to host USTA League events as well as USTA-supported clinics for local youth. After all, Blanchfield knows firsthand how captivating the game can be at such a formative age.
“We want to support kids who don’t have the wherewithal to join a club,” he says. “I mean, that’s how I got my start—it’s worked for me! So that’s a personal goal of mine. This was all done out of a love for the sport.”