Organizer of the Month
June 17, 2019
Each month, USTA Eastern selects a passionate advocate who has made exceptional contributions within the community through tennis. This month, we recognize a college coach who took a unique path towards building a career and life in the sport.
Finding His Passion
Can we get an Amen? Led by captain and coach Jason Pasion, USTA Eastern captured the 2019 George Myers Church Cup—an annual men’s team competition between Eastern, USTA New England, USTA Mid-Atlantic and USTA Middle States—with a 7-2 victory over New England in the final on June 9.
Pasion says the win boiled down to Eastern players making the necessary tactical adjustments for the grass courts at Merion Cricket Club in Haverford, Penn., where the intersectional event was held this year.
“A lot of the younger players that I recruit, they just want to hit winners from the baseline,” Pasion explains. ADVERTISEMENT “The key this year was [the team] successfully changing their game up for a grass court—coming to the net and volleying, slicing and dicing.”
He also acknowledges two returning Church Cup players, Marcus Smith and Quinnton Vega, for utilizing their past experiences on the grass to help lead the squad. “They really transformed into serve-and-volleyers and chip-and-chargers to neutralize our opponents,” Pasion says.
Undoubtedly, though, some of the credit can be attributed to guidance from Pasion. The current Hofstra head coach has now helped the Eastern contingent claim two Cup victories since he took over as captain in 2010. (Previous to that point, the section had only won two times total in the preceding 20 years.) Pasion’s 2018 squad made the final before losing in a heartbreaker to Middle States. Tied at 4-4, Eastern had been in control of the decider before rain forced the players off the grass and onto an indoor court.
“That changed everything—it just became a completely different match,” Pasion says. “Luckily this year the weather was great, and when we won it felt like redemption.”
Winning at Merion in particular also felt special. The first-ever Church Cup was contested at Merion over 100 years ago in 1918. Back then teams representing three cities—Boston, Philadelphia and New York—faced off for the glory of hoisting the trophy. (The George Myers Church donated the hardware that now bears its name.) The event, typically played on grass, garnered tons of spectators and press, and 10-time grand slam champion Bill Tilden was among those competing.
“Not a lot of players today know about Church Cup, so when I’m recruiting Eastern players, I really try to tell them the story of what it means to tennis, and particularly what it means to tennis in the U.S.,” Pasion says. “It sort of mirrored the Davis Cup.”
Pasion’s own history with tennis is just as surprising. He came to the sport relatively late for a young player—in the seventh grade—but picked up the tools quickly enough to excel in high school and then start all four years in singles and doubles at the State University of New York at Oswego. After graduating he planned to pursue a career in the medical field; he was working as an EMT on September 11 and ended up at Ground Zero to support firefighters within hours of the towers falling. (“I was there for almost three days straight,” he remembers. “My parents didn’t know if I was alive because there was such limited cell phone service. When I walked in the door my mom said, ‘You’re okay!’”) In 2007 he obtained a degree in physician assistant studies from Touro University and was in practice as a PA when an opportunity to coach at New York Institute of Technology opened up.
“I had been coaching kids privately on the side at the same time as being a PA,” Pasion explains. “Tennis was always my first love. So I applied for the position and got the position. And that was really my springboard to the next level.”
Pasion proved to be well-suited for the gig. He led the men’s tennis team to back-to-back East Coast Conference championships; in 2016, the squad made the Elite Eight of the NCAA Division II Tournament. After that successful season he headed to Hofstra University, where he has helmed both the men and women’s Division I tennis programs ever since. He has done wonders strengthening tennis there: During the 2018-19 season, the men’s tennis team came within one win of matching a program-best win-loss record.
“I really don’t put a lot of pressure on winning,” he says of his coaching strategy. “I’m more about the preparation, the hard work. I always tell my players, if you put in the time and the effort, winning will be a by-product, and they’ve bought into that.”
The results—from Church Cup to NYIT to Hofstra—have validated Pasion’s career change. But the experiences have really proven to Pasion that he is exactly where he should be.
“I love seeing these players not only grow on a tennis court, but off the court as well,” he says. “Building relationships with them, helping them get ready for the next stage of their lives, which is the real world. When I tell people my story, they’re like, ‘Wow, you gave up a high-paying job to become a tennis coach.’ And I say, ‘Yeah, but I come to work every day, and I love it.’”