American Collegiate Invitational

American Collegiate Invitational

Any opportunity to showcase college tennis is a “win” in my book. The American Collegiate Invitational (ACI), held during the second week of the US Open, is no exception.

The USTA started hosting the ACI in 2014, featuring 8 men and 8 women playing a single-elimination singles tournament with the winner of each draw receiving a wildcard entry into the following year’s US Open Qualifying tournament. If, however, the winner is ranked 120 or better by the US Open entry deadline, then he/she will get a wildcard entry directly into the Main Draw. That’s means a huge payday for these young athletes – the 2017 qualifiers received $8000 just for being in the tournament, $50,000 if they actually made it into the First Round of the Main Draw. ACI winners also get wildcards into three USTA Pro Circuit events, and the runners-up each get one.

It is interesting to note that, although the ACI features college players, this is not an official college event. That means participants are competing as individuals, not as representatives of their schools. That also means that, even though they may receive coaching during their matches, the players’ college coaches cannot be the ones doing the coaching due to NCAA compliance regulations. The strange part is that players wear their college uniforms while competing and are introduced by name and school, but the scoreboard and draw show them as from the US as opposed to their university. For the life of me, I don’t think I’ll ever fully understand all the NCAA rules!

This year’s ACI Tournament Director was none other than recently-resigned USTA’s Director of Junior Tournaments, Bill Mountford. He told me that USTA chose to start this event 4 years ago in order to demonstrate its commitment to college tennis, to celebrate the best players by showcasing them on American tennis’s grandest stage: the US Open. And, to its credit, USTA is fully-invested in these players and this event, treating the collegians like Tennis Royalty by footing the bill for their travel, hotel accommodations at the Grand Hyatt (the official player hotel for the Open), and even taking them out for a gourmet meal the night before starting play. “They should be treated like royalty. They’ve come through Juniors and been among the best players. They’ve spent thousands upon thousands of hours honing their skills. They should be celebrated. It’s got to feel inspiring when they’re out there practicing right next to Rafael Nadal or having their racquets strung right next to Juan Martin Del Potro or being called in the morning by the Bryan Brothers because they need to practice with someone who’s going to hit kick serves to the ad court to warm them up for the day’s match. These are the best of the best of our young American players.”

He went on to say that he hopes the ACI players view this event as an extension of their US Open Juniors experience, bridging the gap between that tournament and the time they will, hopefully, be competing at the Open in the Main Draw. Being on these courts at this venue is a learning experience for them that should aid the transition as they move from college onto the pro tour.

2017 NCAA Women’s Champion, Brienne Minor, confirmed Bill’s hope. “To be able to play in the US Open and then this Invitational has been amazing! I’m so glad I had this opportunity. Hopefully, I can come back here. I definitely do want to play after college. I’m glad I got to have the experience and to know what it’s like and to be around the top pro players is pretty amazing, just to get that atmosphere. Now I know what it’s like and if I get to come back, I can change a few things and know what to expect.” Unfortunately, Brienne will be taking a break from tennis this Fall to have surgery on both her knees. The plan is to rehab and be ready for the dual match season in January.

I had a chance to speak with several of this year’s ACI players, and they all agreed that this event is a wonderful opportunity and certainly welcome the chance to earn a wildcard into next year’s Qualifying or Main Draw, but they view it as one more step in the process. Any time they get to compete on a big stage, it puts them one step closer to their goal of competing at the WTA/ATP level, which most of the players want. As UVA graduate Thai Kwiatkowski said, “If you can’t enjoy playing at the US Open, then you shouldn’t play the game!”

I found it interesting to hear Thai say it hurt more to lose his Main Draw match to Mischa Zverev, mostly due to the loss of ranking points and money that would help him fund his first year on the tour, than it did to lose first round in the ACI to eventual winner Tom Fawcett (Stanford). “I graduated with a Business Degree from UVA, and there’s a massive opportunity cost every day I step out on the tennis court. I’m eventually going to get out into the business world. I think I’m playing right now because I’ve played tennis my whole life, and it’s always been a dream, and I know that if I quit now I’ll always have in the back of my mind that I should’ve played. I’m getting that out of my system and seeing how far it can take me.” He shared that he’s continuing to study and learn while out on the tour because he misses that aspect of being a collegiate student-athlete. Thai went on to say that he’s going to miss everything about college tennis. “Those bus rides and tough matches and celebrations . . . I’m still best friends with all those guys and still talk to them every day, so it’s not too far off.”

I also had a chance to speak with several of the players’ parents, including Scott Holt (Brandon’s dad), Kevin Minor (Brienne’s dad), Beata Redlicki (Michael’s mom), and Carlo DiLorenzo (Francesca’s dad). After seeing all of them back in May at the NCAA Championships, it was great to catch up and get their take on this tournament. They each viewed this event as a wonderful opportunity for their children to play at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center during the US Open but also realize it’s just another step in their long tennis journey.

And in case you think these college students no longer need that kind of parental support . . . ACI Women’s Champion, Francesca DiLorenzo, had a parent in the stands cheering her on for each match, both in the Women’s Qualifying and the Women’s Doubles Main Draw as well as in this event. “It means a lot to have that support from home,” she shared. And, I have to say my heart nearly melted when I saw Thai Kwiatkowski hug and kiss his dad, Tim, after his first-round loss. What a sweet father-son moment!

Fran is taking the Fall off from Ohio State to pursue her professional tennis career, but, at least as of now, is planning to return to school for the dual match season though she will re-assess in the next couple of months. Some of the new, more restrictive, rules from NCAA are hurting her ability to play enough tournaments in the Fall which was a big factor in her decision to take the next few months off from school. Also, the fact that her major doesn’t allow for as many online classes now that she’s in her Junior year played a role in her decision.

I asked Fran how former UCLA player Jennifer Brady’s success at this year’s US Open impacts her. “It’s always really nice to see a college player do well. It gives us all hope. It’s really good for college tennis and shows that you can do something after college, that it’s not the end of the road like sometimes people think. For her to represent, not just her school but all of college, is unbelievable. It’s really exciting!”

Watching these kids compete was such a treat! I was there the first day of the very first ACI in 2014 but hadn’t been back since. Unfortunately, I had to fly back to Atlanta yesterday before the Men’s ACI Final, but I did see all the other matches this year. College tennis, in case you were wondering, is in great hands!

ACI Women’s Draw & Results

Round 1 (Quarterfinals):
Francesca DiLorenzo (Ohio State Jr) d. Sara Daavettila (UNC So) 6-1, 6-2
Ena Shibahara (UCLA So) d. Brienne Minor (Michigan Jr, NCAA Champ) 6-1, 6-3
Sydney Campbell (Vanderbilt Grad) d. Alexa Graham (UNC So) 4-6, 6-1, 7-6 (6)
Ingrid Neel (Florida So) d. Hayley Carter (UNC Grad) 4-6, 6-4, 6-2

Round 2 (Semifinals):
Francesca DiLorenzo (Ohio State Jr) d. Ena Shibahara (UCLA So) 6-4, 6-1
Ingrid Neel (Florida So) d. Sydney Campbell (Vanderbilt Grad) 6-4, 1-6, 6-2

Round 3 (Finals):
Francesca DiLorenzo (Ohio State Jr) d. Ingrid Neel (Florida So) 4-6, 6-4, 6-4

ACI Men’s Draw & Results

Round 1 (Quarterfinals):
Michael Redlicki (Arkansas Grad Student) d. Chris Eubanks (GA Tech Sr) 6-2, 6-4
Brandon Holt (USC So) d. William Bushamuka (Kentucky Jr) 6-2, 6-2
Tom Fawcett (Stanford Sr) d. Thai Kwiatkowski (UVA Grad, NCAA Champ) 7-6 (5), 6-4
Alfredo Perez (Florida Jr) d. Alex Rybakov (TCU Jr) 7-5, 6-3

Round 2 (Semifinals):
Michael Redlicki (Arkansas Grad Student) d. Brandon Holt (USC So) 4-6, 6-0, 6-3
Tom Fawcett (Stanford Sr) d. Alfredo Perez (Florida Jr) 6-1, 6-2

Round 3 (Finals):
Tom Fawcett (Stanford Sr) d. Michael Redlicki (Arkansas Grad Student) 7-6 (4), 6-7 (6), 6-4

 

UTR Gaining A Foothold

UTR-1.0-logoI first heard about Universal Tennis Ratings a couple of years ago when I was asked to have one of its founders, Dave Howell, on my radio show. At the time, UTR was just starting to gather steam. The professional players were in the system, but UTR still had spotty data on junior and college players. Dave and his team were making every effort to build a following by engaging parents and coaches and others to report dual match and tournament results so that UTR could be a reliable tool for evaluating players.

Flash forward to December 2014. I had Harvard Men’s Coach Dave Fish on my radio show TWICE that month to talk about UTR’s use in college recruiting as well as during the Winter National Championships. After seeing my son use UTR to help make his final college decision, I knew this was a tool that was going to continue to gain momentum in the junior and college tennis world.

That’s exactly what’s happening. I found out last week that UTR will be used once again for selection and seeding in the 2015 New Balance High School Tennis Championships as well as for seeding in the US Open National Playoffs.

I reached out to Bruce Waschuk at UTR to get his thoughts on how this rating tool can be used more extensively in junior competition. We talked at length about the need for more level-based play a la the French system and how more and more USTA sections are adding this type of tournament to their calendars. NorCal has been way ahead of the curve in this regard, offering many opportunities for junior players to compete against a variety of age groups based solely on their Universal Tennis Rating. As Ben Ncube discussed in last week’s radio show, this type of level-based play ensures more matches, better competition, and the possibility of a smoother development curve.

Bruce also discussed UTR’s goal of including high school matches in its ratings which is a daunting task given the massive variety of rules and structures in the high school tennis world. I offered to send him data on my son’s high school team so that I could see firsthand what’s involved. It’s pretty simple, really. UTR emailed me a Google Doc that included explicit instructions on recording the match results and where to send them. It’s as easy as filling in an Excel document with player names, state, and scores then emailing the spreadsheet to the folks at UTR. Within a day of submitting my data, the information showed up on the UTR website, so these guys are pretty quick to turn around the submissions. Bruce told me they are trying to find parents and coaches around the country who are willing to collect and submit the match results for every high school team in the US. If you’re interested, please let me know, and I’ll put you in touch with the appropriate contact at UTR. As I learned at the USTA conference this past November, USTA is making a real effort to engage high-school-only players in competitive play outside of their school teams. Including these players in UTR is a step toward reaching that goal.

In terms of the US Open National Playoffs, Bill Mountford at USTA told me that the aim of using UTR to seed players this year is to include one more tool to ensure competitive matches for all entrants. Because of the nature of the Playoffs – any player aged 14 and older can enter – it’s crucial for the seeding to make sense, and using only NTRP, USTA, and ITA rankings just hasn’t worked as well as USTA had hoped. I asked Bill if we were going to see more junior tournaments using UTR for selection and seeding, and he replied that USTA is committed to using as much information as possible to make its events competitive and developmentally-appropriate for all players at all ages and levels. I’m feeling hopeful that we’ll start to see more UTR-based events in the coming months.

FYI, UTR does offer a free membership that gives you access to its basic information such as rounded-up ratings, search capabilities, and player profiles and records. For a small monthly fee, you can also view extended ratings (to 2 decimal points) as well as save your searches and notes. A slightly higher fee gives you expanded access to college players and rosters – for those of you with high school juniors and seniors, I definitely recommend this option.

If you’ve had experience with level-based tournaments, I would love to hear from you in the Comments below. After speaking with both Bruce and Bill, I am confident that UTR is here to stay and could be one of the most useful tools we’ve seen for our kids’ development in quite a while.

The Future of Junior Tournament Tennis in America

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Image provided by USTA

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to attend a very interesting session of USTA’s annual Tennis Development Workshop being held in Atlanta. The session was titled “The Future of Junior Tournament Tennis in America” and was led by Bill Mountford, USTA’s Director of Junior Tournaments. The format was more of a roundtable discussion with short breakout sessions between Bill’s presentation of information regarding the current state of the junior tournament landscape. About 50% of those in the room had run junior tournaments, so it was interesting to hear their take on things. Here are a few things that I noted during the 70-minute session . . .

  • When Bill asked the current tournament directors (TDs) why they run tournaments, their answers included providing accessibility to tennis to their community, tournaments are a revenue-builder for the club, they have a passion for tennis and want to share it with others, they want to be the one controlling the quality of junior competition, filling a need in their community, providing a fun environment for juniors to enjoy tennis.
  • When Bill asked the others in the room why they don’t run tournaments, their answers included it’s too time consuming, it’s cost-ineffective, and they don’t want to deal with the parents.

Next, Bill presented some statistics and the results of a survey that was sent to parents earlier this year. Here are some interesting points that came to light:

  • In 2013 97,999 juniors played 1 tournament but the attrition rate was alarming. Out of those kids, 38% didn’t play another tournament that year, another 58% dropped out after 2 tournaments, yet another 64% dropped out after 4 tournaments, and 71% dropped out after 5 tournaments, leaving only 23,128 who played 6 or more tournaments that year. That same year, only 2068 US juniors played 20 or more tournaments.
  • Of the 1.8 million kids who play tennis more than once per week, half are ages 11 and under and half are ages 12-18.
  • In 2013, 2147 TDs ran at least one tournament that year.
  • For 2014 YTD (January-October), we have 6.1% fewer juniors playing tournaments along with 1.3% fewer tournaments being held.
  • From January-October 2013, there were a total of 22,313 tournaments held across all 17 USTA sections; in 2014, that number dropped to 22,021. Nine of the USTA sections had fewer tournaments in 2014 than 2013 while 8 sections had a higher number of tournaments.
  • The only age group that showed in increase in the number of tournament oportunities was the U10 which increased 3.99% from 2013 to 2014. All other age groups saw a decrease in opportunity.
  • In YTD 2014, we have 129,348 total junior tournament players. In that same period in 2013, we had 137.697 (a 6.1% decrease as stated above).
  • The survey results showed that for those juniors who participated in only one tournament, the most important thing to them was to have fun, and the least important thing was the availability of ranking points.
  • Not surprisingly, the TDs rated the quality of tournaments higher than the participants did.
  • Survey results showed that for those juniors who play 12 or more tournaments a year, they found the tournament structure to be too confusing, and sportsmanship was rated as the worst aspect of their most recent tournament experience.
  • Regarding officiating at junior tournaments, the survey showed availability of officials to be poor while the friendliness of the officials who are present was rated as high.

Bill then asked the room several questions and left each table to come up with answers/suggestions.

The first question was: “What do parents want from a junior tournament experience?” Answers included (1) well-organized events where the wellness of the child is the main priority; (2) Consistent officiating; (3) Good viewing areas; (4) Consistency in the pathway from section to section; and (5) TDs to use email to update participants on any changes.

The next question was: “What makes a great tournament?” Answers included (1) Communication from the start about sportsmanship expectations; (2) A back-up plan in case of bad weather; (3) Consistency in match scoring meaning that each round of the tournament uses the same scoring format; (4) Good communication from the TD to the participating families; (5) Good budgeting; (6) Affordability; (7) Educated officials; (8) Off-court activities for participants; (9) Food/refreshments available on site; (10) Timely updates to the tournament website; and (11) Timely updates to the online and on-site draws.

The third question was: “How do we recruit more TDs?” Answers included (1) Sell tournaments to prospective TDs as a money maker for their facility; (2) Sell tournaments to prospective TDs as great exposure for their facility; (3) Have the local USTA office (also known as a Community Tennis Association or CTA) incentivize TDs by underwriting some of the costs of running tournaments; (4) Empower assistant TDs to learn how to run tournaments efficiently; (5) Established a tiered structure of sanctioning fees wherein entry-level tournaments cost less to run than larger national events; and (6) Make the tournament software easier to use and clean up the glitches.

The final question was: “What should we do about ratings and rankings?” Overwhelmingly, the room felt that ratings-based play was the way to go, maybe combining 2 age groups together per rating range. One problem that was mentioned with this method, however, was the historical occurrence of “ducking” when a highly-ranked played didn’t want to face an equally- or higher-ranked opponent for fear of dropping in the rankings with a loss.

Luckily for me, I was sitting at the table with Andrew Walker who is the new manager of the USTA Officiating Department. He is in charge of officials from the most entry-level junior tournaments all the way up to the US Open. He assured me that the training for officials is being overhauled and improved though he wasn’t sure when that would take effect. I shared with him that ParentingAces readers overwhelmingly supported having more and better-trained officials at our kid’s events, and that our recent poll showed that parents are willing to pay a little more in fees to that end. I will be sending Andrew your comments and the poll results so he has a better feel of what’s needed in the junior tournament arena.

Overall, I was encouraged by what I heard in the room. I had a chance to speak privately with Bill Mountford for a few minutes after the session, and he assured me that USTA is taking a very close look at the junior competition and ranking structure. He wasn’t sure when the 2015 calendar would be completed and online, but you know I’ll post the link as soon as I have any further information.

We Must #SaveCollegeTennis

I’d be willing to bet that, for most of our kids, college tennis is the goal. Maybe not The Dream, but definitely The Goal. But what will college tennis look like by the time our kids get there? For my kid, that’s only one year from now. Let’s take a look at what’s there as of today and what’s coming down the pike . . .

  • Right now, as a result of Title IX, a fully-funded Division I women’s tennis team has 8 scholarships to distribute; a fully-funded men’s team has 4 1/2. That means, if you’re the parent of a tennis-playing-boy, the likelihood that he’ll get a full ride to college is pretty much zero – if he’s a top 20 player, the odds go up, but, otherwise, he may or may not get a small percentage of the overall cost to attend. Given that most private and out-of-state tuitions are now topping $50,000 PER YEAR, your ROI for the years of lessons, drills, equipment, tournaments, etc. is pretty negligible. And, let’s not forget that our children are competing against players from the international tennis community for those few coveted spots and scholarship dollars. At present, in Divisions I, II, and III, there is no limit on the number of international players who can be on a team or receive scholarship money. Junior colleges, on the other hand, limit the number of non-Americans to 1/4 of the team’s allotment of scholarship players.
  • The current scoring system for a college dual match (a match played against another college team) is as follows: (1) Teams simultaneously play three lines of doubles matches that are played as an 8-game pro-set with a 7-point tiebreaker at 7-all. Whichever school wins 2 of the 3 matches earns 1 point in the overall dual match score. All three matches are played to completion. (2) Teams simultaneously play 6 lines of singles matches, 2 out of 3 sets with a 7-point tiebreaker at 6-all. Each match win earns 1 point in the overall dual match score. In men’s matches, there are no service lets – if a serve touches the net and lands inside the service box, it is considered in play. Whichever school accumulates 4 points overall (3 singles points plus the doubles point OR 4 singles points) wins the dual match. All six singles matches are played to completion except during tournaments where it is clinch/clinch. At the end of the dual match season (which occurs during the Spring semester), the top 64 teams compete in the NCAA tournament for a spot in the coveted Sweet 16 in May and a chance to be National Champions.
  • Last year, the ITA and NCAA agreed to test out a format during the Fall (individual) season and the National Indoor Tournament (held in February before the start of the dual match season) which used no-ad scoring. The decision to test the format came out of discussions between the ITA, USTA, and NCAA on ways to shorten the overall match time in order to increase fan support and, supposedly, to increase the chances of garnering television contracts. I watched several of the matches on livestreaming – I was not impressed. After the Men’s Indoor Tournament, a player poll was conducted regarding the scoring experiment. The result: 80% of players who played singles in the tournament were against no-ad scoring and 85% of players who played doubles were against it. I would call that an overwhelming mandate opposing no-ad!
  • Now, ITA has announced the use of no-ad scoring in all matches during the Fall and Spring seasons (click here to read the announcement), and is hoping for it to be approved for use during the NCAA tournament as well. The stated reason for this scoring change is to get more fans in the stands for the matches in order to help the teams become self-funding (tennis is a non-revenue sport in Division I). Several women’s DI coaches, led by Indiana University’s Lin Loring, have signed a petition opposing the process by which no-ad was adopted (click here to read more on this topic from ZooTennis). On the men’s side, The Citadel’s head coach, Chuck Kriese, has taken the lead role (click on the link below to read Coach Kriese’s letter).

On Monday, August 11th, I will devote the ParentingAces radio show (the podcast is now online and posted below) to a discussion of these changes and their potential impact on both college tennis and junior tennis. Bill Mountford, USTA’s Director of Junior Tournaments, flat out told me during the 2014 NCAA Tournament that however the scoring system goes in college tennis, junior tournaments are likely follow, so this thing has great implications for all of us. While I haven’t had a chance to speak with Bill directly since the ITA announcement, I did get a voicemail from him last night saying that USTA is considering experimenting with no-ad scoring in entry- and intermediate-level tournaments in the name of shortening events. I urge you to tune in at Noon ET on Monday and/or to listen to the recorded podcast which will be online later that day.

As of now, none of these organizations has asked for input from the players themselves which is in direct opposition to NCAA’s recent actions putting student-athlete welfare front and center. To quote NCAA President Mark Emmert, “Today, the student-athlete voice is an essential part of our processes. Who better to consult on student-athlete welfare than student-athletes?”

We Tennis Parents need to understand what’s happening and to voice our opinion – either individually or as a group – to the ITA, USTA, and NCAA. I’m hoping we can help effect a change and that our governing bodies will fulfill their stated purpose of preserving and growing the beautiful game of college tennis while standing up for the student-athletes who make it possible. To that end, I encourage each of you to contact Mark Emmert, NCAA President, via telephone at 317/917-6222 or via email at memmert@ncaa.org and to add your thoughts in the Comments below. Maybe a parent petition is in order as well? It’s time to rally. Together, we can save college tennis.

Coach Chuck Kriese’s Men’s Division I Tennis Association (MDTA) update letter (Click link to read)

NCAA President’s letter – Spring 2014 (Click link to read)

 

 

Update on 2014 Junior Comp Structure

I know I said you probably wouldn’t be hearing from me this week – I’m still at the beach on Spring Break, luckily – but I wanted to pass along the latest news from USTA’s Board of Directors meeting.

I received an email this morning from USTA’s Bill Mountford, letting me know that the changes to the previously approved Junior Competition Structure were unanimously approved by the Board last night.  That means, as predicted, that the changes will go into effect January 1 of next year.

It’s time to take a serious look at your child’s current schedule and the tweaks that you’ll need to make for next year.  Alternatives to USTA tournaments are popping up around the country, and I’ll continue to post them here as I get word.

Time to move on . . .

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Notes From 9th and Final Listening Meeting in Texas

USTA Folks in Attendance:
  • Bill Mountford
  • Dave Haggerty
  • Lew Brewer, though he arrived a bit late and stayed mostly at the back of the room.

The following information is a conglomeration of several emails that I received after the meeting. If you were there and have something to add, please do so in the Comments below.

Sadly, attendance was rather small, but those in attendance seemed to be fully aware of the changes and were fully engaged in the discussion.

The initial issue that came up was in regards to why the USTA is reducing the number of national tournaments. The conversation started with traditional schooling and the desire to try and reduce the number of days players will miss. A few of the parents voiced their disagreement with the USTA focusing so much on this. These parents felt it was not as big of a deal as the USTA was making it – and that it should be the parents’ responsibility to manage this, not the USTA. Several USTA people disagreed and backed the new rule changes.

The conversation then turned to the draw sizes. It felt like quite a bit of the conversation revolved around this topic. A few of the parents focused on the decrease in opportunities for kids that don’t fall into the 32/64/128 draw sizes. There was a concern for the kids that will just miss the cut or would have otherwise been able to make it into a national tournament. Even if they weren’t the “high quality” players, the experience could be enough to motivate and incentivize these players to work harder and grow their game. In addition, a few parents mentioned that the kids that aren’t among the top 128 could potentially have fewer chances to be seen by college coaches. The USTA response was that these coaches would see them at the regional tournaments (of which the parents were skeptical). The USTA and coaches tried to focus the discussion on the quality of the draw for the players, saying smaller draws will drive stronger competition.

Dave Haggerty once again brought up that USTA is discussing a 64 player draw qualifier for the national tournaments that are reducing from 192 to 128. The thinking is that this would give the lower ranked kids a chance to play for a berth in the main draw and keep similarly ranked kids playing together. Of interest was how the USTA would deal with the qualifier and wild card issue. Suggestions were made to have 0 wildcards from the USTA and also having 7 to 8 wildcards allocated to the USTA with 8-9 spots coming out of the qualifier.

I saw the following posted on the USTA-Stop 2014 National Junior Tennis Tournament Changes Facebook page: There are a number of people who think that the 128 draw is ample for Level 1 tournaments. What those people usually don’t understand is that entry into those draws are not on a child’s National ranking but on sectional quota’s. So technically a kid from the Caribbean could be ranked 1400 in the US and get in a 128 draw while a kid who is ranked 50 in Southern California would not get it. Usually when people find that out, they have a greater understanding of why the 192 is more fair to the stronger sections. Additionally, these events have become showcases. There are many colleges who recruit kids at that level and the change from 128 to 192 has caused a tremendous amount of introductions of college coaches to US kids. Countless US kids are playing college tennis because of the move to 192.

There was emphasis placed on 12 and unders – having 128 draws and including 12s in the team competition in the winter. Foreign scholarships were addressed, and the USTA folks indicated they are talking with other sports to address this issue as they feel that making this a tennis only issue would not work with the NCAA. It was reiterated that the USTA has no jurisdiction in regards to this issue.

One parent shared with me that, overall, it was a civil meeting, with no fireworks – they just didn’t have enough parents show up. That being said, the vibe (in his opinion) was that the USTA attendees in the audience have already made up their mind to back the changes. It was obvious in their body language in reaction to parent and coaches comments, as well as under-the-breath comments and side bar conversations.

Overall, those in attendance believe Bill and Dave were engaged. Whether that leads to committee action remains to be seen.

All Sections Are NOT Created Equal

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Voting within USTA is much like the Electoral College system in the US federal government.  All USTA sections are not created equal.  Apparently, size DOES matter.

That said, and as was suggested by Scott Schultz at the listening meeting in Los Angeles, it is still crucial that we all continue to reach out to our Section Presidents (click here for a list of Sections, 2013 Presidents, and contact info where available) and ask them to vote for a pause on the 2014 changes to the junior competition calendar.  It is our best hope for getting the result that many of us have been working toward for the past year or so – to see the USTA Junior Competition & Sportsmanship Committee take the 2014 plan, push the pause button, seek input from those in the trenches day in and day out, use it as a base to create something that serves the greatest number of junior players, vet it properly among its constituents, then move forward in hopes of providing a clear pathway for our kids to make the most of their junior tennis years.

Here’s what I sent to Bud Spencer, the Southern Section President: “Mr. Spencer, please vote to PAUSE the 2014 schedule at the next USTA meeting!  The proposed changes will have a significant negative impact on junior tennis.  Why not just take one more look at this whole proposal and re-evaluate?  What is the harm?  What is the rush?  Isn’t it better to do things right instead of doing them right now?  Please listen to the concerns of so many of the coaches and parents and players involved and vote NO on moving forward with these changes in 2014.  Thank you.”

Please note that the next (and final!) listening meeting is Friday, February 15th at 4:30pm at the DFW Airport Hilton in Grapevine, Texas.  Dave Haggerty, Bill Mountford, and Lew Brewer are scheduled to be the USTA representatives there.   You folks in Texas are up against it, though.  A parent posted the following on the ParentingAces Facebook page:  “Just got an email from Ken McAllister, Director over the Texas Section, they will continue to support the changes to the jr. tournament schedule and do so more strongly than before.”  This, despite the fact that many parents have reached out to Mr. McAllister asking him to vote for a pause.  This, despite the fact that the listening meeting in his section hasn’t even happened yet.

If you are planning to attend the Texas meeting and are willing to share your thoughts with me, please contact me at fitmom@bellsouth.net.

And, don’t forget to keep sharing your thoughts with LetUsKnow@usta.com.

By the way, Monday’s ParentingAces radio show will continue with last week’s discussion on the 2014 changes and how they will impact players and families.  My guests will include Antonio Mora, Geoff Grant, Sol Schwartz, and Martyn Collins.  I hope others of you will call in and share your questions and concerns.  The show airs at Noon ET – please click the Radio Show tab above for details.