Organizer of the Month: August 2020
In 2015, Gordon Panek had just helped secure funding for wind screens and benches at the Chestnut Ridge Park Tennis Courts in Orchard Park, New York when Tim Sands (above, right, with Panek), a fellow tennis player, approached him about creating a local tournament together.
“Once Tim brought me the idea, the wheels in my head really started spinning—[the area] was a perfect set-up [for a tournament],” Panek recalls. “Twelve courts in a beautiful park, ample parking, grassy areas for easy viewing, [now with] wind screens, benches, picnic tables.”
The pair immediately rolled up their sleeves to deliver their vision, and the Championships at the Ridge Tournament was born.
“There is no sugar coating,” Panek says. “It was a lot of the work and time from the beginning: Getting approvals from the Erie County Parks Department, calling and writing letters to sponsors, ordering t-shirts and trophies, buying food, lining up the grillers, setting up canopies, advertising.”
Undoubtedly, the hard work has paid off. Just like the Chestnut trees for which the park is named, the tournament has blossomed; over the last five years, the event, funded almost entirely by sponsorships and low entrant fees, typically draws a massive 170 participants to Chestnut Ridge each summer. In 2019, Panek and Sands formed a non-profit, Summer Classic Events Inc., to not only continue running the tournament but also—they hoped—to expand their burgeoning tennis programming operation.
With the help of USTA Eastern staff members Lynn Buffamonti and Joe Steger, Summer Classic Events successfully obtained Community Tennis Association (CTA) status at the beginning of 2020, which afforded the organization access to more resources, most notably, says Panek, affordable insurance. This summer—as New Yorkers emerged from a months-long pandemic-induced quarantine itching for physical activity—Summer Classic Events safely hosted a multitude of programming in Chestnut Ridge for the first time: Everything from clinics for the 10-and-under set to supervised middle school and high school match play to flexible format leagues, the latter of which attracted around 70 players. The organization is also moving forward with the 2020 tournament, to begin August 25. Despite global events, Panek expects it to be their “best and biggest” yet.
But Summer Classic Events isn’t finished growing the sport in their corner of the world. Interest is growing so much, in fact, that, despite the organization’s moniker, one season won’t suffice; Panek says he has plans to hold a mixed doubles tournament in the fall or spring. The organization is also on the cusp of securing funding to light at least four of the courts, so matches can continue past sunset.
“Chestnut Ridge Park is just the perfect, inviting setting for tennis,” Panek says. “Our goal is to make it the mecca for tennis play in the Western New York area.”
To learn more about the Championships at the Ridge Tournament, click here.
Tennis in public parks is massively growing across the state as families seek out fun, safe physical activities. For free promotional assets to promote your parks tennis program please contact USTA Eastern Marketing and Communications at email@example.com.