“If you don’t like us, find a way to get rid of us!” That was Patrick McEnroe’s response to a parent’s question regarding the 2014 Junior Competition Changes at last summer’s Girls 12 Nationals in Atlanta, and it was really the beginning of my extensive coverage of the new calendar that USTA was planning to implement beginning January 1, 2014.
Now that the calendar changes have been finalized and approved at the National Board level, I figured I should do a sort-of recap of the process around the changes and how they came to be . . .
- Some time in 2011: Jon Vegosen, then president of USTA, charged his Junior Competition Committee (JCC) to devise a new national tournament schedule. Please note that the JCC was chaired by Tim Russell, a former tennis parent who was currently a music professor at Arizona State University, and his assistant chair was Andrea Norman who had very limited experience with junior tennis. The JCC created the new calendar, some of which was to go into effect January 1, 2013, and some of which was to go into effect January 1, 2014. Tom Walker found out about the changes and organized several meetings as well as wrote several opinion pieces that were published on various websites. The news spread at junior tournaments, and parents were terrified that the rumors were true – who in their right mind would want these changes, especially after investing years and thousands of dollars in a system only to have it changed mid-stream and, for some, right when their children were trying to get into college? Harsh warnings were issued to people within USTA to keep all information about the changes under wraps until after the March vote. A woman in the Midwest Section was purportedly fired because she was stirring the pot about the changes. Sean Hannity published an op-ed on his website that was seen by millions of his readers; he offered personally to fund a survey of the USTA membership to gauge support of or opposition to the changes. Tim Russell responded to Mr. Hannity’s article with a 17-page memorandum [Note: the link to the memo that was posted on USTA’s website seems to have been deleted] that was hung on tennis club bulletin boards all across the country.
- March 2012: At the USTA Annual Meeting, the 17 USTA sections approved the new Junior Competition Calendar with a vote of 16-1. The Southern Section was the only one opposed.
- Late Summer 2012: Patrick McEnroe and other USTA staff members traveled to the various National Championships across the US to “hold court” with parents and coaches on the new calendar. These meetings were basically a disaster for USTA and really got parents riled up anew over the changes. USTA’s stated goals of saving families money and reducing missed school days were proven to be completely bogus – the new system is going to be far more expensive for most families. And, the new system pretty much guarantees the need to homeschool in order to play at the national level. Immediately following this “tour,” an online petition was launched by a tennis parent to oppose the changes, and it eventually garnered close to 1000 signatures.
- September 2012: After getting bombarded at tournaments by parents and players who were against the changes, Sean Hannity (national talk show host with 2 nationally-ranked children), Steve Bellamy (founder of The Tennis Channel with 4 nationally-ranked children), Robert Sasseville (one of the US’s longest-working tournament directors), Kevin Kempin (CEO of Head with 3 nationally-ranked children), and Antonio Mora (broadcast journalist with 1 nationally-ranked child) met with USTA leadership in Northern California and then again in Chicago to discuss their concerns about the calendar changes. The “Fab Five” were able to get the leadership to agree to a pause for 2013 as well as to hold a “listening tour” across the country with parents and coaches.
- November 2012: The “listening tour” kicked off in Reston, VA. Turnout was extremely low due to the late notice of the meeting. The meetings clearly demonstrated that virtually no one who was part of the junior tennis world and who understood the changes were in favor them. With little to no publicity, USTA announced the creation of the LetUsKnow@usta.com email address for folks who were unable to attend one of the “listening meetings” to express their feelings about the changes. I published the first of many controversial blog posts on the changes, and ParentingAces’ readership began to increase dramatically. USTA began issuing public statements regarding the changes via its website which were emailed to various media outlets including ParentingAces. By now, every conversation at every tournament was focused around whether the pause for 2013 was going to be sustainable or whether USTA would forge ahead with the changes in 2014. College coaches expressed concern about having the ability to see players outside the very top of the rankings. Tennis pros and facilities were concerned about losing business as parents and players spoke of abandoning the game altogether. One parent went so far as to say, “We just spent nearly $400 thousand on our daughter’s tennis over 5 years, and right as she is about ready to be in a position to be seen by coaches, she won’t be able to play in any of the tournaments where coaches go.”
- December 2012: Robert Sasseville created two spreadsheets comparing the tournament opportunities under the pre-2012, current, and proposed calendars which I published on this blog. That post garnered many comments, some of which were posted under aliases that were USTA volunteers and/or staff members. The USTA PR machine went to work again, getting an article published on The Examiner about the changes and the listening tour. Former professional player and current junior coach, Johan Kriek, spoke out against the changes in an interview on TennisNow.com. The 2013-2014 JCC members were announced – Steve Bellamy and Kevin Kempin were among the new members. TennisRecruiting.net announced its National Showcase Series of tournaments as an alternative to limited national play under the new USTA calendar.
- January 2013: The “listening tour” continued, and I had the opportunity to attend the one in Atlanta. Tom Walker created a Facebook page to oppose the changes, which quickly gained over 3500 members. As a point of comparison, USTA’s Junior Comp Facebook page had only 170 members after a full year.
- February 2013: The “listening tour” concluded in Grapevine, TX. I had several phone and email exchanges with Bill Mountford who encouraged me to remain hopeful. I worked with several other tennis parents and coaches to mount a campaign to contact local USTA leaders and board members in hopes of convincing them to vote down the changes at the March 2013 Annual Meeting. At the Scottsdale listening meeting, USTA President Dave Haggerty acknowledged that about 90% of the tennis community was opposed to these changes.
- March 2013: Lew Brewer informed me that the JCC made some amendments to the junior comp changes at its committee meeting. At the 2013 USTA Annual Meeting, those changes were approved but still needed Board approval. Rumors started circulating that Jon Vegosen had made a deal with Dave Haggerty prior to his taking office as President that if any changes were going to be made, Dave had to insure that they didn’t scrap the entire plan and start from scratch with the calendar.
- April 2013: The USTA Board approved the modified junior competition calendar to go into effect January 1, 2014.
So, to summarize, here’s where we stand . . . we have a national junior competition schedule that:
1. Was created by a music professor who didn’t spend any substantive time at junior tournaments and who was subsequently removed from his position;
2. Was adjusted by Player Development which was then promptly removed from the process;
3. Was passed by a Junior Competition Committee with only one active junior tennis parent out of the 20 members, and that one active parent was opposed to the schedule. It is interesting to note that half of the 2011-2012 JCC members were removed when Dave Haggerty took office in 2013;
4. Was passed by a Board comprised of voters, many of whom admitted after the fact that they were pressured to vote for it and that they really didn’t understand the implications of the changes at all. Then, the changes were exposed to a 9-city “listening tour” after which USTA executives were told by Dave Haggerty’s own admission that over 90% of the tennis community were opposed to them;
5. Was then put into the hands of a new Junior Comp Committee with only 2 parents (out of the 20 members) with kids currently competing at the national level, both of whom pushed heavily for a pause. Please note that it was this new Committee which added back some of the competition opportunities in March 2013;
6. Was pushed through via the most non-transparent process USTA could’ve possibly utilized.
Never once was the membership polled or asked for its opinion in a meaningful way. Geoff Grant, a fellow tennis parent, offered to fund a study or any type of mechanism in order to “get it right” – USTA did not take him up on his offer. And, even though the listening tour comments, Facebook posts, and (admitted by President Dave Haggerty, himself) the majority of consumers were against them, the changes with some opportunity added back were passed.
So, I have to ask USTA one more time: If the overwhelming majority of your customers, the overwhelming majority of tennis pros, all industry dignitaries who have spoken out (Robert Landsdorp, Wayne Bryan, Jack Sharpe, among others), the brands themselves (Head, Inc. published a letter on its website, and Athletic DNA provided the video footage posted on the USTA-Stop 2014 National Junior Tennis Tournament Changes Facebook page), the college coaches who have commented – with all of the opposition, why would you go forward with these changes?
The only group of people who are in favor of them are the USTA folks themselves, most of whom are NOT parents of current national junior players.
The US tennis community has spoken. We do not want any of these changes. We want the 2010 system back in place. We want experts – not volunteers – to make these decisions on behalf of our junior players, and we want them to make the decisions via a transparent process.