Organizer of the Month
May 20, 2019
Each month, USTA Eastern selects a passionate advocate who has made unique contributions within the community through tennis. This month, we recognize husband and wife Leagues captains who, inspired by Netflix star Marie Kondo, organized a successful racquet drive.
Jung and Rachel Lee's introduction to tennis started with a splash—literally. Seven years ago, the couple joined the Bradford Bath and Tennis Club in Montclair, New Jersey simply so they could use the pool with their young son, Miles. Throughout that first summer, they noticed that many of their fellow members would also hit the tennis courts, and Jung wondered how much extra it would cost to play. Rachel told him that it was already included in their membership.
"I said, 'Okay, wait a minute,'" he recalls with a laugh. ADVERTISEMENT "At the time I wasn't that interested in playing tennis, to be honest. But I'm the type of person who's like, ‘If I'm paying for it, I'm going to at least get my money's worth!'"
Jung began taking lessons and "really fell in love with [the game]," he says. Before long, he was playing all the time. Rachel noticed that her social life increasingly included Jung's tennis pals and that conversation around the grill at the pool deck inevitably turned to the sport. "I think Rachel's feeling was, 'If you can't beat 'em, join 'em," Jung says.
Still, Rachel didn't exactly dive in headfirst. In fact, it took her about two years to feel comfortable playing. "Jung will throw himself into something, figure it out, and have fun doing it," she explains. "For me, it was actually quite intimidating. I was very self-conscious. I actually learned outside of our club. I started watching on TV and I read autobiographies of tennis stars. I took my time, and gradually, slowly, I started to grow into the game."
Although they approached it at different speeds and with different levels of comfort, both Jung and Rachel felt that a natural next step in their journey with the sport was USTA Leagues. 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.
"We kind of fell in love with USTA Leagues," Rachel says. "It made tennis a year-round activity. We met a more diverse group of people and we were able to get more competitive play—to experience the thrill of winning and, obviously, the pain of losing."
Since joining USTA Leagues, Jung and Rachel have captained multiple teams. Captaining a team is a big responsibility that requires a great deal of organization. Captains are expected to do everything from recruit players to record results to cheerlead. Jung took on the captaining task after about a year into his USTA Leagues experience; he found that other captains, as well as his New Jersey Area League Coordinator, were extremely helpful and supportive as he adjusted to the role. These days he feels like he's having a bit of a full-circle moment as he supports newer players find their footing in captaining and putting together their own teams, answering questions for them whenever he can. "The great thing about the USTA is they really make it easy," he says.
Rachel also enjoys captaining, and she says she took on the responsibility partially due to her own initial experience with the sport. "Because tennis had been so intimidating, I wanted to be able to make it easier for others," she says. "[When I was putting together a team], there were many women who would say, 'Oh I'm not sure, I need to be with the kids,' or 'I just like playing for fun'. I would try to encourage them on to join. Now we really have a small community that plays, and many of them have said to me I'm so glad that you gave me that extra push.' Jung and I have a few guiding principles in our captaining and one is that at the end of the day we're all having a good time."
In addition to captaining, this past winter, the Lees spearheaded a racquet drive at the Bradford Club. It all came together when, inspired by Netflix personality and cleaning expert Marie Kondo—who has a popular TV series called "Tidying Up" and wrote the New York Times bestselling book, "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up"—Rachel and some of her friends began to declutter their households. ("Marie Kondo became a verb around our neighborhood," she says with a laugh. "People would say, 'Are you Marie Kondo-ing?'") A couple tennis pals asked Rachel what she was doing with her old tennis racquets. Rachel reached out to the pro at Bradford and inquired whether he would consider starting a collection. Simultaneously, she contacted USTA Eastern Area League Coordinator Hazel Rodney to identify an organization that might be in need of such gear. She sent emails to club members and commandeered the Bradford Club's Facebook page. By the end of the push, Rachel collected nearly 70 racquets to donate to the Donald Van Blake Tennis and Education Foundation in Plainfield, New Jersey, which helps offer affordable opportunities for local youth to play the sport. The initiative was so successful that there are plans to hold another one later this year.
"I have to say, we probably could have collected more," she explains. "There are many members who only play in the summer, so we'll do it again then, and hopefully collect a larger portion."
Ultimately, the Lees feel that tennis has been so rewarding and given them so much that they are happy to take charge of service efforts like the drive.
"Tennis is a part of our lives—a normal, natural part," Jung says. "Our son Miles has picked it up—he's a pretty good junior player. We've become such a tennis family. It's something that we've found that we can all enjoy together."