Remembering Sol

Photo credit: Melanie Rubin

One year ago today, I got a phone call from my friend, Melanie. Usually, when Melanie calls, it’s to chat and catch up on our kids and our lives. Not this time. This time, Melanie called to deliver some devastating news: that our dear friend, Sol Schwartz, had died.

Sol’s sudden death took everyone by surprise. This man was the poster boy for fitness and healthy living. He worked out religiously, ate well, avoided drugs and alcohol completely, and was one of those people who spread good karma wherever he went. To say he was beloved is an understatement as evidenced by the SRO at his funeral and the fact that his long-time place of employment, Holabird Sports, actually closed shop for the day to honor his memory.

So, now a year has passed and a lot has happened. Sol’s daughter graduated from high school and started her first year in college. Sol’s son is thriving on his high school baseball team. Sol’s wife has surrounded herself with friends and family who are helping her live in a world without her husband. And, we, Sol’s friends, have found many ways to remember him and share his legacy.

For me, that way is #theSol junior tournament.

I won’t repost the details of our first #theSol event (you can click here to read about it), but I do want to talk about what the tournament looks like as we move into Year 2.

Because of the success of our first go ’round, we were able to secure additional sponsor money – HUGE thank you to 10sballs.com! – to kick off our next round of events. UTR is continuing to be a major part of the tournaments and has helped connect me with tournament directors in various cities who will be hosting their own #theSol tournaments in 2017.

The first confirmed event will be played at Georgia Gwinnett College just outside Atlanta July 17-19, 2017 with tournament director David Stolle running the show alongside GGC head coach Chase Hodges. David runs numerous UTR events throughout the year, so I feel good about putting #theSol in his very capable hands!

We are hoping to have Sol’s tournaments in the Baltimore area, one in Florida, and one in Texas, but those events are still in the negotiation phase as we work to secure venues and dates. Of course, as we nail down the details, I will share them here and on the ParentingAces social media outlets, so please keep these tournaments on your radar as you plan your junior player’s schedule for the remainder of 2017.

We are working to attract additional sponsors so we can continue to provide a top-notch tournament experience to the players and their families. My goal is to have #theSol be a true reflection of all that Sol wished for junior tennis. It’s a tall order, but I’m confident in our small but highly dedicated committee and the tournament directors who have expressed an interest in being part of this special series.

It looks like we have found a way to continue Sol’s work to #SaveCollegeTennis as well. We will be establishing a fund – using some of the sponsor dollars and net proceeds of the events – through a 501(c) non-profit organization that will award grants to college tennis programs at risk of being cut. I was hoping to partner with the ITA on this part of things, but there are too many hurdles for that to happen this year. Maybe in future years we will be able to conquer those hurdles and work with the governing body of college tennis – I think it’s a partnership that makes perfect sense.

As is fitting, I spent my morning playing tennis, wearing my Holabird long-sleeve that Sol included as a little treat in an order he filled for my son shortly after we first met. For the record, I won my match which, I’m convinced, had as much to do with my Forever Cheerleader Sol as it did with any so-called skill I exhibited on the court. Like all who had the privilege of knowing Sol, I am missing my friend today.

In my religion, we remember and honor those who have left us on the anniversary of their death. It’s called observing yartzeit, a Yiddish word equivalent to yor year + tsayt time. Today, I am remembering and honoring Sol by sharing him with all of you. I hope you will help me continue to honor him by participating in #theSol events, either as a participant or sponsor or volunteer, and by supporting your local college tennis teams. I will be cheering on my favorite team this weekend and will know that Sol is smiling down as he watches his legacy live on.

Sol Schwartz #SaveCollegeTennis All-In Tournament

tounament-logoLately, I’ve posted several opportunities for junior players to get in some tournament play outside of the traditional USTA system: ITA Summer Circuit, Oracle ITA Junior Masters Series, and a variety of money tournaments. None is closer to my heart than the Sol Schwartz #SaveCollegeTennis All-In Tournament presented by Holabird Sports.

As you may recall, the Tennis World lost one of its biggest advocates this past March when my dear friend, Sol Schwartz, passed away unexpectedly. I was unable to go to his funeral in Baltimore, but I knew I wanted to do something meaningful to honor the memory of my friend. For several weeks I wracked my brain to come up with something. Making a monetary donation wasn’t going to cut it. Neither was setting up a scholarship fund. Sol was all about effecting change through tennis, so I knew that whatever I did needed to be sustainable and impactful. That’s how the Sol Schwartz #SaveCollegeTennis All-In Tournament idea was born.

Since I’ve never run a real tournament before, I knew I needed help. Lots of help. I reached out to others in the Tennis World who were close to Sol and who had connections to the tournament realm. That’s how our amazing organizing committee came to be: David Hirshfeld (Holabird Sports), Rob Hubbard (UMBC Tennis which has sadly been cut), Randy Jenks (UTR), and Melanie Rubin (Tennis Parent Extraordinaire). We have also consulted with Sol’s family who have been a great help in terms of logo design (thank you to Sol’s niece, Ali!), promotion ideas, and sponsorship.

The tournament is now a reality. It will take place August 20-21, 2016, at The Suburban Club in Pikesville, Maryland, a suburb of Baltimore where Sol lived with his family. It is open to all junior players age 18 and under. In keeping with Sol’s commitment to making tennis affordable for all, we have kept the entry fee very low at $30 per player.

Here are the particulars:

  • The title sponsor is Holabird Sports
  • 16-draw for boys and 16-draw for girls (it is an open 18-and-under draw)
  • Selection and seeding will be done using UTR
  • Compass draw ensures each player will get 4 matches
  • On-court coaching is allowed at changeovers
  • Each player will receive a print program which will include player photos and bios
  • The winner will receive a one-year clothing and equipment sponsorship from a major tennis manufacturer
  • This event is non-USTA sanctioned but will be included in UTR

My hope is that this event will grow and spread to cities across the US. While I wanted to host this inaugural event on a college campus, we weren’t able to make that happen this year. But, the goal is to have Sol Schwartz tournaments in several cities by next summer, all hosted on college campuses in order to raise awareness about the beauty of college tennis. Ever since I met Sol, his mission was to #SaveCollegeTennis, and I’m hoping these tournaments help achieve that mission. Long-term, we would like to establish a 501(c)3 non-profit so the proceeds from these events can be used in the form of grants to college programs in danger of being discontinued.

Registration is open TODAY through August 14th. Click here to go to the tournament website. For information on sponsorship opportunities, click here or email me at lisa@parentingaces.com.

Hope to see you in Maryland!

Why UMBC Tennis Will Live on Forever

I originally read the following article on TennisFiles.com. It was written by the site’s owner, Mehrban Iranshad, a former UMBC player himself, who gave me permission to reprint the article here for you. #SaveCollegeTennis

Today I attended an event that I wish never had to happen: the final home match of my college tennis program’s existence. And while I can sit here and rehash why the reasons laid out in this terribly written letter make no sense, I want to take this opportunity to let you know how proud I am of UMBC Tennis and what it stands for.

The very essence of being a UMBC (University of Maryland, Baltimore County) Retriever is true grit.  True Grit is the name of our mascot, after all. If you google the word grit, you will see that it is defined as “courage and resolve; the strength of character.”  No team epitomizes grit more than UMBC Tennis. In addition to finding out that the program would be eliminated after this year, our tennis teams had to endure the passing of our former assistant coach Bobby Hoffman, and volunteer assistant coach Sol Schwartz.

Despite these setbacks, UMBC Tennis came together as a family, and faced the season with courage and resolve to perform to the best of its capabilities. Not only does UMBC Tennis have some serious game, but our tennis teams have the highest GPA of all other sports teams at UMBC.

More than just being great tennis players and high performers in the classroom, I observed the players during the match and chatted with a couple of them. The players at UMBC are some of the friendliest and supportive college tennis players that I have ever seen.  To see players like Junior Biyik Akinshemoyin passionately cheer on his teammates, and observe Senior Justin Carter, a monster of a tennis player, speak with nothing but kindness and respect, made me proud to be a Retriever.

As I listened to the players talk about how tough of a year it has been, and how the team bonded together as a family, I knew that this was the perfect group of student-athletes to represent UMBC Tennis as it closes this chapter of the program. To hear funny stories about French accents, players innocently forgetting their ID before flights, and coach Rob Hubbard and assistant coach Oliver Steil praise their team for its resolve, reminded me of the good old days when I played college tennis at UMBC under Navy Women’s coach Keith Puryear.

The senior gifts were especially thoughtful, often-times hilarious, and reflected the unique personalities of each player that their teammates learned from the invaluable friendships forged during their years in the program.  The gifts included shoes, a sleep mask, and an abundance of muscle milk.  Pretty impressive if you ask me.

The match started at 1pm, and by the time the last Retriever had spoken on Senior Day, after a convincing victory for both teams, it was nearly 6:30.  I slowly walked away from the tennis courts for the last time, but stopped twice to turn around and look at the UMBC Tennis banner, realizing that I’d never have the pleasure of doing so after a UMBC tennis match again.

When I got in my car, I looked at my gold ring that we received for winning the America East Conference tournament and making the NCAA tournament in 2007, and thought about how happy it would make me if UMBC Tennis ended the program with another championship this season.  But I know they will leave everything out on the court, because that is what UMBC Tennis is all about, and that’s the only thing that really matters at the end of the day.

UMBC Tennis will live on forever because of all the amazing people who have been a part of the program. I will always be proud to wear my UMBC tennis gear, and if anyone notices where I went to school and asks me how the team is doing, I will tell them, we are all doing fantastic. I know, because everyone I’ve met who has been a part of the program is successful. And that is a testament to the true grit, the courage and resolve, the strength of character that every one of us developed during our time playing tennis for UMBC.

If anyone ever wondered about the newest generation of the UMBC Tennis family, all you had to do was hear each of the players speak about their admiration and respect for their teammates and our program. The men and women of UMBC Tennis made me extremely proud today, as they always have.

College tennis is not just about the wins and losses, or how much money we may or may not be making for our universities. It is a tool to develop the character of young men and women, to test their resolve, their ability to balance sports and academics, and to teach them the principles of preparation, respect, communication, and teamwork. College tennis is invaluable because it produces successful young men and women who will contribute much more to the world than they would have without the training and discipline learned through the rigors of being on a college tennis team.

The tennis community must understand the true value of college tennis and how disbanding teams robs us of the chance to develop countless groups of fine young men and women who will make our society better.  And we must do everything we can to save college tennis, because our kids and our world deserves better.

As much as it hurts to see the last home match I’ll ever be a part of at UMBC, the saving grace is to know that our tennis program has produced so many wonderful human beings who have and will go on to do great things in their lives.  While I may never see another UMBC Tennis match again, I take solace in knowing that the lasting memories, and the impact that UMBC Tennis has had on our lives, will live with us forever.

Why You & Your Kid Need to Attend College Matches

Steve-Johnson-clinch
Used with permission of zootennis.com

I received the following email from USC Trojans Men’s Coach Peter Smith via Wayne Bryan:

Below is most of our home schedule and I would like to invite clubs or anyone who would like to take part in this (they just have to do some organizing on their end) to come watch our match, have the kids be ball kids (and get pizza and free t-shirt) and then have a clinic with the team after the match. Every match we have done it at over the past 3 years it has been a huge hit. What the club director or pro needs to do is teach them how to be ball kids, organize them to come to the match and then we will feed them and my team will hit with them after the match.  The kids just love it.

2/1/14 – UCLA vs Florida – 10am – USC vs Georgia 2pm

2/2/14 – UCLA vs Georgia – 10am – USC vs Florida 1pm

 3/9/14 – USC vs Baylor 12N – USC vs UC Riverside 4 pm

 4/4/14 – USC vs Stanford – 1:30 pm

4/5/14 – USC vs Cal – 1 pm

I didn’t include a couple of matches because I don’t think the fit would be right, but these matches will be an absolute blast.

In a follow-up email from Wayne that included replies from several folks (including Yours Truly), I saw this from UGA Bulldogs Men’s Coach Manny Diaz:

Thanks!  The Dawgs look forward to a “Wild and Crazy Weekend” in SoCal. Let me know if we can do anything to create a better experience for the fans/kids while at the matches!  What a fantastic attitude and that’s what makes you and your program such a humungous winner, Manny, and mega thanks!  Ya know, when I think of you, here is the first thing that always comes into my mind:  “Class is hard to define, but you when you see it you never forget it.”  Grantland Rice.  See you in SoCal and wishing you and your Dawgs yet another great season – – – and with full stands.  Best, WB  Manny Diaz, Manuel Diaz, Jr., Head Men’s Tennis Coach, University of Georgia

And this from Mike Gennette, California Lutheran University’s head coach:

All,  We are going out to all of the local high schools to give them wallet sized schedules and also to have each school come out as a team to one match together. We have the team stay after to say hi to the HS team. We also have a local retirement community that loves to come out and get involved. Our university PE classes get credit for attending one match during the season also. Just a few ideas…

And from developmental coach JP Weber:

Just a quick note here to say one of the best times we have each year is going to take the kids to UGA for matches. Craig Jones of Macon takes advantage of it in an even better way.  He charters a bus with a ton of kids to a special match each season!  I must say one of the best events we went to was about two years ago and Manny had a pro from the area set up drills for the kids in attendance on the Women’s courts at Georgia. They begin a short 45 minute session of drills for the kids immediately following the doubles matches and those community pros ran the drills for 45 minutes.  At the end of the 45 minutes they had pizza and Powerade for the kids and they wandered back over to the match where they were able to pick up the action mostly still in the first set of singles. This was one of the best things and the kids still remember that particular day and format! (BTW–with your new format not so much fun can be had by the spectating kids…)  Just thought to drop my 2 cents in on this as I will also make one more comment– Manny and his players are terrific. After the match they wait and sign autographs and posters for the kids down on the stadium court. It ends up being a terrific way to fire up the kids.  It is not easy – bandages, fatigue and hunger are there but each of them is willing to help with the kids. Good stuff.

Those who say we need to change the format of college matches in order to fill the stands should take a lesson from the great coaches above – they’ve figured out that if you offer up exciting tennis and engage your local community, the fans will come in droves!

#SaveCollegeTennis