USTA Pride Month Spotlight: Andrew Walker
To celebrate Pride Month, USTA.com, in conjunction with the USTA’s Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) Department and Partners Business Resource Group (BRG) is spotlighting USTA administrators who are members of the LGBTQ+ community and the role that they play in making tennis a welcoming space for all. Up next in the series is Andrew Walker, Deputy Chief Umpire of the US Open and Director, Education and Training for USTA Officiating.
As one of the stewards of the rules of tennis in the United States, Andrew Walker (pictured, above right) is using his role within USTA Officiating to help build a inclusive community for current and future tennis umpires from all walks of life.
With the USTA national staff since 2014, Walker is responsible for the recruitment, education, evaluation, and retention of certified USTA officials at all levels as Director, Education and Training for USTA Officiating. This includes oversight of all in-person and online resources for the officiating department and the continuing development of these tools. In addition, he serves as Deputy Chief Umpire at the US Open, where more than 350 officials from over three dozen countries gathered last year.
While Walker's tennis officiating career has spanned over 15 years and taken him to the biggest stages in the sport, it began far away from the bright lights and hustle and bustle of New York City.
In the summer of 2003 ahead of his sophomore year of college at Indiana University, where he was a dual major in political science and criminal justice, Walker's local tennis club needed officials to staff its events. Working at the club at the time, Walker earned his certification to work locally, and the rest was history. Less than two years later, his officiating career took off in earnest.
"Around the time I was ready to graduate college in 2005, I was a roving umpire at a junior tournament in Indianapolis, and the referee for the event asked me if I'd ever done any events professionally as an official, or wanted to," he recalled.
"I didn't know anything, but a few months later, I went to line umpire training at an ATP Challenger event in Illinois, and that was my first professional event."
Ultimately, his career as a professional on-court official took him to all four Grand Slam tournaments as both a chair umpire and line umpire, and ATP and WTA events around the world. After graduating from Indiana, he later earned his master's degree from the University of Cincinnati while working through stints on tour.
Closer to home, the final Grand Slam of the tennis calendar has played an important role in his life, both personally and professionally.
"I was working my way up the officiating chain, so to speak, professionally, and I think that at that time, there were very few examples of openly gay sports officials at the highest levels, especially men," he said.
"There were a few here and there, but to me, at the time, it was really something that you didn't publicize. At that time, there might've been one or two referees in major sports leagues who had come out. It was almost like you'd be wondering, 'What impact could this have on my career progression?' and things like that.
"There are more today and I think that for the [officiating] industry as a whole, sports have evolved in that respect. There are more and more professional officials in other sports who are out and don't feel the need that they need to hide it anymore.
"The day that I came out to somebody for the first time and actually told them was my first day on staff at the USTA, in New York for the US Open."
After reaching bronze badge status as a chair umpire, Walker was promoted to a gold badge as a chief umpire, the highest certification an official can achieve in world tennis, by the International Tennis Federation at the end of 2017. In this capacity, he is routinely called upon to coordinate diverse, multi-national officiating teams at the US Open and Team USA's Davis Cup and Billie Jean King Cup ties, and ensure that these world-class events are held at the highest standards of integrity.
But with the overwhelming majority of certified USTA officials working at the grassroots levels around the country, Walker also plays an important role in community tennis to expand the USTA Officiating family—a responsibility he does not take lightly.
"I think that in the position that I have, one of my main focuses is to make sure that we are an inclusive and welcoming community of officials, and nobody should feel that they are not welcomed into the USTA or USTA Officiating because of who they are," he said.
"That holds a special place for me, making sure there is that welcoming environment for everybody."