Volunteer Spotlight: Middle States President Rebecca Halpern
“There’s something about tennis that keeps so many of us connected.”
Rebecca Halpern paused — looking for the perfect words to explain her relationship with the sport.
“I think what is most important for me is that I look at tennis as a community.”
As the President of USTA Middle States, Halpern is an important part of growing that community. She’s currently in the second year of the 2021-22 term, leading the Board of Directors while working closely with USTA Middle States staff and volunteers.
Halpern first joined the Middle States Board of Directors in 2015. She also loves her time on the court.
“I look at my volunteer life and my playing life as two very different things,” she said. “I try to keep them separate because, as much as I love to play and be on the court, I get a different type of gratification from my volunteer work,” she said. “Both help fulfill different things for me and I love every aspect of them both.”
A common thought is that most tennis volunteers have careers in tennis. And while that may be the case with some, there are plenty others — like Halpern — who offer a different set of experiences.
In fact, USTA Middle States is looking for volunteers with all sorts of skill sets, including individuals who work in the tennis industry, and others who simply have an interest in giving back to the game.
“My professional background is a little bit different,” Halpern said. “I hope others realize that if you feel you have something to contribute or a love for tennis, there is a way to get involved.”
Halpern’s professional background includes a unique and successful career in publishing which led her to jobs around the globe. But she found tennis like so many: as a kid, playing with her dad at the local courts.
“I distinctly remember getting a wooden racquet in a press,” she said with a smile. “It would sit at the foot of my bed, and I would go out and hit with my dad. It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I started playing tournaments.”
She said she struggled a bit in tournaments as a kid. She enjoyed playing, but the environment of a tournament didn’t quite match her tennis game at the time.
“As well as I hit the ball, I didn’t know how to construct a point or compete,” she said. “At 18 I quit playing and didn’t pick up a racquet for 13 years.”
Those 13 years were busy. College was followed by a career, which eventually led to a job in Singapore. She lived there four years before moving to New York. That was her first time living in the United States.
“The first thing I did when I arrived in New York was call someone I knew from Singapore, who had moved to New York a year earlier and who I knew was a good tennis player,” she said. “He told me about the tennis facility where he played and invited me to meet his USTA mixed league team for dinner before watching their match. Not knowing another soul in New York, I walked into the restaurant and there was a whole group of tennis players who instantly became my social circle.”
One of the people in that social circle included Rob, who she later married. As the couple moved for work and started a family, tennis remained a theme for Halpern in her life. She consistently found friends through tennis while living in places like Philadelphia and Birmingham, Ala.
At one point, she and Rob were living in Florida with their young daughter, Julia. Halpern was looking for work and was intrigued by a schools tennis position at USTA Florida.
“That job opened my eyes to what tennis can do for kids, through the schools,” she said.
As the Schools Coordinator at Florida, Halpern learned of the many different ways the USTA supports the mission to grow tennis at all levels, from grassroots to professionals.
“I wanted to understand the organization as a whole,” she said. “Both at the section and national level. It was a chance to learn and understand every area of the USTA, from NJTLs to Player Development. I’d listen in on various committee meetings and absorb as much as I could.”
Her family eventually moved again, and Halpern found herself back in the Philadelphia area. She reconnected with Ben Zislis (now the USTA Middle States Executive Director) who explained some opportunities about how to become even more involved as a USTA volunteer.
Since then, Halpern’s tennis work fills up the page.
Zislis calls Halpern an incredibly hard worker who has a deep-rooted care for others and doing things the right way.
“It’s amazing to me how much she wants to learn about our organization at all levels, and her ability as a problem-solver,” Zislis said. “She looks at situations from all different angles. Rebecca is a really good person to brainstorm with and to figure out strategy. Whatever she wants to do, she does well. We’re lucky to have had her involved with us at the local level the last several terms.”
Halpern has been at the forefront of many USTA Middle States efforts, including those pertaining to community tennis and schools. She even chaired the USTA National Schools Committee while holding a Board position with Middle States.
Halpern took over the Vice President role during the 2019-20 term, working closely with section and national leadership to guide tennis back to the forefront as the COVID-19 pandemic began. She credits past presidents Wilson Pipkin, Ed McQuillin and Christian Sockel (all who served during her terms on the Board) for strengthening relationships and furthering USTA outreach throughout all six districts.
“It’s been a great learning experience to see so many different sides of the organization, and to learn from others,” she said. “When I started, I never thought I’d be involved in this way. But I love the process of problem solving and thinking, ‘How can we be better?’”
When she’s not volunteering, Halpern continues to spend as much time as possible with Rob and Julia. She plays tennis as often as she can, and won’t stop looking for ways she can help the USTA and the sport move forward.
The growth of tennis gives Halpern excitement about the years ahead. A recent study from the Physical Activity Council shows that tennis participation grew 27.9 percent over the last two years, with 22.6 million people playing tennis in 2021.
“I’m excited to see how we continue to grow the sport and build on this momentum,” Halpern said. “I really believe that with flexible playing formats and fun tennis opportunities, our sport is going to continue to thrive.”
“There is something very special about tennis,” she added. “It gets people involved with communities and creates friendships. There are also many mental and physical benefits of the sport. It’s a wonderful game and I’m lucky to have this chance to give back.”
USTA Middle States is currently accepting applications for the Middle States Board of Directors and District Councils. The application deadline is April 11, 2022.
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