Donna Stauffer Enjoys Role as Roving Umpire
Upon being asked what roles she’s held during her outstanding 35-year USTA career, Donna Stauffer laughed before replying, “How long do you have?”
Stauffer — who first got involved with USTA in 1987 — has worked in such capacities as district league coordinator, tennis service representative (TSR) and national verifier for adult leagues prior to the new dynamic ratings system. As a volunteer, Stauffer has served on USTA national, section and district committees.
“You name it, I feel like I’ve probably done it,” Stauffer said. “I have a lot of experience in a lot of different things. And in addition to that, I’ve been a tennis player as well.”
Stauffer’s most recent endeavor is officiating, as she’s worked as a roving umpire for USTA St. Louis the past three and a half years. During a given year she officiates five or six events and additionally chips in as treasurer of SLATO (St. Louis Association of Tennis Officials), handling all the organization’s billing. This year, Stauffer said she’s billed better than 30 tournaments and three months of Saint Louis University ITA tourneys.
“In a given year I’m on the low end in terms of officiating events, as the main reason for that is I have two grandchildren playing in tournaments,” Stauffer said. “Most of the time as far as local if the girls are playing, then I don’t work. Just to avoid any appearance of conflict.
“SLATO is my way of making up for the fact I can’t work as many events as some of the other officials. We do a lot of events over the year, probably at least four a month. And in the summer it’s sometimes more. We try to do every event — even the L7s, L6s, L5s — at the local level. We officiate Missouri Valley tournaments and adult tournaments. We try to do as much as we can.”
In addition to her efforts with USTA Stauffer spent 24 years coaching the girls’ tennis team at Lafayette High School, transforming the Lancers into one of the area’s top programs. She also coached the Lafayette boys’ tennis team for a pair of years but passed that off to someone else because, as she said, “I can turn anything into a full-time job.”
“What that allowed me to do is I embraced the no-cut policy and ended up one year with 108 players,” Stauffer said. “We were able to make it work. Focusing my attention on the girls, we took a program and made it into one of the strongest in St. Louis at the time.”
Stauffer was well-versed in the high school realm. But when her grandchildren — including USTA St. Louis standout junior competitor Emerey Gross — began playing junior events, she wanted to further her tennis education. Stauffer helped as a court monitor at orange ball and green ball tournaments and had a blast doing so.
“I loved it. I had a ball,” Stauffer said. “I felt like I was helping them learn the game, educating them, making tournaments a more positive experience for them. That was my trigger of this is really fun. So I made the transition to officiating and just plunged in.”
Though she initially had to adjust from talking frequently while coaching to a more nuanced approach when officiating, Stauffer quickly found her stride. A self-proclaimed “tennis fanatic,” she listed getting to watch high-quality players and teaching them as some of her favorite components of her roving umpire role.
“Our main job is we don’t want to insert ourselves into a match. Our job is to be inconspicuous,” Stauffer said. “There’s such a calming influence when there’s an official presence. It’s almost like, ‘OK, now I know I don’t have to worry about anything. I don’t have to worry if something goes wrong or if I’m doing something wrong. There is somebody here to help.’ And that’s a nice thing.”
The Gross/Stauffer clan was recently selected for a USTA St. Louis award as “Tennis Family of the Year.” The crew then was named “Tennis Family of the Year” by USTA Missouri Valley. For the complete list of 2022 USTA St. Louis award recipients, click here. And for the list of 2022 USTA Missouri Valley award winners, click here.
As is the case with other sports, there is a shortage of officials involved in tennis. Locally, USTA St. Louis staff has been working to encourage individuals to try their hand at the role. For more information regarding how to get started in USTA St. Louis officiating, click here. And for information about becoming an official courtesy of USTA National, click here.
Stauffer credited current USTA St. Louis officials who work dozens of tournaments a year — sometimes more than 12 hours a day — for carrying the load locally. She said individuals like John and Carobeth Kelly, Mike Reichman, Tom Weber, Diana Trickey and Lew Conley deserve recognition for their hard work.
Reichman received just that when he was named 2022 “Outstanding Official” by both USTA St. Louis and USTA Missouri Valley. And to aid in honoring the work of officials, USTA National is holding Officials Appreciation Week from November 13-19.
“If there are people who don’t have time maybe to make commitments in other areas, I hope they would consider giving back in this way,” Stauffer said. “Also, it’s a great opportunity for younger adults who get paid to do this. I hope people consider it a way of getting involved, being a role model and doing something to make tennis a more positive, enjoyable experience.”
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