Organizer of the Month
April 16, 2019
Each month, USTA Eastern selects one passionate advocate who has made unique contributions within the community through tennis. This League captain from Rochester, N.Y. is committed to helping others discover the benefits of a sport that has given her so much.
The Student Captain
Lydia Varón (above, far left) first picked up a tennis racquet as a five-year-old in a program at her school in Rochester, N.Y. “My mom needed an afterschool activity for me…. the high schoolers would walk the little kids over [to the courts], and we’d learn how to play.”
Many years later, after graduating from college, Varón was looking for something to fill her free time and decided to visit the same teaching pro from the school who initially taught her how to play. As she started practicing and reacquainting herself with the sport, another player approached Varón and asked her to join a USTA League team.ADVERTISEMENT
“I said, ‘I don’t know what that means, but okay!’” she recalls with a laugh.
With 300,000 participants nationwide, USTA Leagues are the nation’s largest recreational tennis outlet. Players specifically compete against others with a similar ability level, which is determined by the National Tennis Rating Program (NTRP) rating system. Every team has the opportunity to advance all the way to the National Championship, where the best squads in the country go head-to-head.
Varón absorbed all this quickly. After about a year participating, she decided she not only wanted to keep playing in Leagues—she wanted to captain her own team.
“It was fun, and it was competitive,” she says of why she wanted to make the leap and captain. “But I didn’t really get to know everybody [on the team], and I didn’t meet anyone outside of my level. So that inspired me to say, ‘Okay, how can I make this more of what I want?’”
Captaining a team is a big responsibility, and Varón says there was definitely a learning curve. Captains need to do everything: recruit players, distribute materials, relay rules for matches and record results. In her first season as a Captain, Lydia put in a lot of time and work and leaned on her Area League Coordinator, Lynn Buffamonti, when she needed help. And her efforts paid off.
“Once I got everyone together, it was kind of like we were the misfits,” she says. “I think we lost every single match. But it was so much fun! We’d all go out afterward. I think it was probably my favorite season.”
In 2017, after a year leading teams in Rochester, Varón moved to Ithaca, N.Y., to attend Cornell University’s Master of Industrial and Labor Relations program. Rather than press pause on her captaining duties, Varón informed her teammates she would happily continue in the role—from 90 miles away, and while attending graduate school.
“They were kind of like, ‘Okay, well if you’re leaving, do we need to find another captain, or are you going to keep doing this, because you’re the organizer of this friend group,’” she says with a laugh. “So I wanted them to still be able to continue playing on these teams.”
Of course, for the time being, given her location, Varón can’t easily participate on any of the teams she captains. She now plays in a Young Adult League in Ithaca—that she herself helped organize in her free time.
“After I got to Cornell, I would complain to Lynn about how I was only ever around people in my [specific] master’s program and how I never made time to play tennis,” she explains. “I said, ‘I want to make new friends, I want to play tennis—how can we put something together?’”
Varón and Buffamonti went around campus and “bombarded” every graduate student program with information about the league they wanted to create, organizing a grassroots word-of-mouth campaign. Once again, their efforts paid off.
“I’ve made a lot of new friends [through this league],” Varón says. “Everybody is from different master’s programs. We have physics students, plants & science students as well as business students. Every week we get together, play tennis, and then go out for drinks. It’s a lot of fun.”
Ultimately, Varón feels that captaining and organizing has helped produce some of the most rewarding experiences of her life. She admits that, like any leadership role, it can be a lot of time and energy. But the results are worth it.
“A big motivator for me to [continue captain and organizing] is that when I went back to the sport as an adult, I found a great social life through it. [Playing in Leagues] really made a difference for me. So anything I can do to help people find that community, to make the game a more popular activity—especially in a place I love so much, Rochester—I’d love to help. If you put so much of your life into one thing, you’re also going to get so much out of it.”