4th & 5th Listening Meetings at Winter Nationals
Two listening meetings were held over the past two days during the Winter Nationals in Arizona, a tournament that will, ironically, disappear from the schedule if the 2014 changes remain as is.
I received emails from attendees at both meetings, each of which had 40-50 people in attendance. It seems that the parents, players, and industry folks (Brad Stine, Jack Sharpe, Mark Bey, Steve Bellamy, Kevin Kempin, Gordon Bellis, Timon Corwin, Tim Mayotte, Antonio Mora) who were in attendance were well-versed in the changes and had no qualms about speaking their minds to Tim Russell, Kurt Kamperman, and Dave Haggerty. Several parents and players spoke out about how they would NOT have gotten a college scholarship under the new system. One mother told the room that although her first son will be playing Division 1 tennis next year, she has pulled her other two sons out of tennis because she doesn’t subscribe to the format. Russell responded with a comment that was akin to “OK.” Kevin Kempin, CEO of Head and a member of the 2013 Junior Competition Committee, said, “I have yet to hear a single compelling argument for any of these changes and I have been listening for a long time.”
The theme of the first meeting on Wednesday night seemed to be parents pleading to not have any cuts. Those in the know seemed to be preaching a longer pause on the changes and a fresh look at the tournament calendar. Parents complained of just playing the same kids over and over in their section and made it clear that if that was going to be what tennis was, then they were out. One parent said “I’ve been doing this for 20 years and if there is anything that is consistent, it is that the USTA is always changing and always frustrating players and parents.” She continued, “You should do this right and do it once and for all.”
Tennis Channel founder Steve Bellamy and Tim Russell certainly had their issues in the room. The situation climaxed when Bellamy asked Russell if he thought that 90% or more of the players, parents and coaches were against the changes. Russell said no, and the room started to get angry. Then Bellamy asked Russell, “If the majority of the tennis industry were against the changes, would you still be a proponent of keeping them?” Bellamy repeatedly asked, and it was clear that Russell wasn’t going to answer the question. One father from NorCal, Gordon Bellis, aggressively challenged Russell to answer and the evening reached a new climax. When Bellis asked Russell what he was supposed to do with his daughter (she is 13 and won the 18 NorCal Sectionals this year) for competition now that the National schedule was slashed so deeply, Russell responded that maybe she should start playing with adults. The room went into an uproar.
At Thursday’s meeting, led by Kurt Kamperman and Dave Haggerty, USTA finally acknowledged that parents are overwhelmingly opposed to the changes. One gentleman who had been at Wednesday’s meeting asked for a show of hands of who was opposed, and every single hand went up. Kamperman and Haggerty made no attempt to argue otherwise. The same question was asked the night before in Tempe and every hand went up there as well.
Haggerty and Kamperman made it clear that they were not responsible for the changes and people were respectful, although one exclaimed, to applause and laughter, that they wished Patrick McEnroe and the people who were responsible could be there to face the fire.
Antonio Mora asked Haggerty, who was once CEO of Head, Inc., what he would do if 90% of his best customers hated a new line of products. At that point, another parent spoke out and said that she wanted them to say they were committed to fully restarting the process. Haggerty then said there would be substantial changes. Kamperman tried to back away from that a bit, saying that the sections needed to be on board and that we needed to get with our section presidents to vote in favor of what we want. At that point, he was interrupted and and politely told that was a bunch of bologna, that the process of approving the changes had been very political, that arms were twisted (acknowledged by them), that section presidents had ignored their constituents, that the vice-chair of the old committee who is the chair of the new one has said there will only be tweaks, and that they were now in the position to be the arm-twisters and needed to take control.
Those who attended expressed their appreciation to Haggerty and Kamperman for listening and taking the time out of their busy schedules to meet with the parents. The attendees also made it clear that they hoped the listening would lead to action.
I urge everyone to attend one of the remaining “listening” meetings and/or to email LetUsKnow@usta.com with your thoughts regarding the 2014 Junior Competition changes. If you need a refresher on the exact changes or dates of the meetings, please click on the 2014 Jr Comp Info tab above.