Junior Tournaments & Rankings

Notes From 8th Listening Meeting in Los Angeles

USTA Folks in Attendance:
  • Scott Schultz
  • Bill Mountford
  • Lew Brewer
  • Ellen Ehlers
  • Greg Hickey – SoCal President
  • Michael Cooke – NorCal President

I’m happy to report that I have heard from several folks who attended last night’s meeting in Los Angeles, and that there was once again overwhelming opposition to the 2014 changes.

There were 61 attendees including several parents, coaches, USTA representatives, and even a tennis journalist.   Some people who had planned to be there didn’t make it because they thought it was at UCLA (I’m not sure how or why they had incorrect information regarding the meeting location).  School-night traffic on the LA freeways made it impossible for some parents to get there, but, still, 61 people came.

During the meeting, there was a constant barrage of passionate parent after passionate parent making very poignant statements about how these changes were “ill-conceived”.  People attacked the fact that only one person on the 2011-2012 Junior Competition Committee (the one that is responsible for the changes) had children currently playing competitive tennis, and said that no one can understand what goes on in tournament tennis unless they are living it everyday.  The point was made over and over that, at the tournaments, everyone is against these changes.

While there was one parent who said that he thinks a system where kids can play in their backyard is better, that was quickly refuted by nearly everyone in the room who simply said, “There aren’t enough kids to make that a reality right now.”  Parent after parent kept saying how the experience of these National events and the friendships that kids make are the things that keep them in the sport.

One mother said, “My daughter is a very talented athlete, and every other sport is courting her.  I can write a check for $400 for the year, and volleyball will handle everything else.  She wants to play tennis, and I want to provide that for her.  But it seems like you guys are doing everything in your power to push her out of it.  At every turn, you just make it more and more difficult.  Do you not understand what goes on at these tournaments with every single parent complaining about these changes?  All of your customers do not want any part of these changes.  So why are you continuing to push them?”

That drew a large ovation from the crowd.

UCLA assistant coach Grant Chen was there and said how hard they were trying to recruit local kids.  Apparently, UCLA head coach Billy Martin is strongly against the changes.

Another parent said, “Your entire customer base has been complaining for a year straight, and right now we are all tired of saying the same things over and over.  What do we have to do to get these changes stopped?”

USTA representative Scott Schultz then gave the most optimistic answer heard at any of the listening meetings when he said, “The USTA is a political organization.  You guys need to rally all the sections and get the sections to vote this down.  We just implement what they tell us. So you guys really need to talk to Section Presidents [click here for a list of Section Presidents and their contact information] and Section Junior Comp Committees and get them to stop them.”

While some in the room were angry and felt that Mr. Schultz’s statement was just a way to shift the blame and responsibility, others were encouraged and invigorated to have a concrete pathway to pause the 2014 changes that had not ever been disclosed before.

One parent said, “To me, when Mr. Schultz said his thing about getting the sections to overturn this, that made my day.  I have been involved with this for 9 months and have never heard any tangible way to get this fixed.  Now we know there is a way.  We just need to get the sections to vote it down.”

One well-spoken, passionate father gave a speech about how all the changes were taking the fun out of tennis and the soul out of the tournaments, that he drove all the way from Santa Barbara to speak up for the future generations as his kid was only 7 and already losing interest.  At the end of the speech, Lew Brewer’s response was,  “We have a plate of cookies back there.  Feel free to take your kid one.  Maybe it’ll make him feel better.”  The whole room just sat there with their mouths open, not believing what they had just heard.  I also heard from parent Gordon Bellis (who traveled to LA from Northern California for the meeting) that Lew Brewer would evade any tough direct question and respond that all of the changes were justified and fully supported.

Brad Sraberg, the parent of two SoCal junior players, said, “I want my kids playing tennis so that they can have a tool to get into college.  If these changes are implemented, it will be an absolute tragedy to so many kids at Adam’s level.  Maybe the Bellamys, Bellises and Gealers will be fine, but so many US kids will be pushed out of college tennis because of a policy change.  I pray that these changes get overturned.”

The bright spot of the night was near the end of the meeting when SoCal President Greg Hickey polled the attendees and said, “I’m listening and so I get this clear, you guys are against the loss of opportunity?”  A chorus of “YES” rang out. Then Mr. Hickey brought up the point about entry into tournaments which led to the evening’s most contentious moments as a couple of people, including USTA SoCal Manager of High Performance Darren Potkey, chimed in about “points chasers”.  The whole point-chasing argument was refuted by many who said that, really, there aren’t that many points chasers out there.  One person said that points chasers are actually a net positive for the sport because the wealthy pay for the travel to disperse the talent. He said, rightfully, “You still have to win the matches.”

In the end, those in the room said that the main focus is on not losing any opportunities and gaining back the Bowls.  They wanted to make it clear to USTA that 99.9% of parents are against these changes.

Dennis Rizza, the father of an ATP player and the Kramer Club Director (Pete Sampras, Lindsey Davenport, Tracy Austin have all come through his program), said, “We fought for 5 years to get the 192 draws.  I can’t believe that we are now fighting to hold onto them after we spent so much time fighting for them.  A 128 is simply not fair for kids in SoCal.”

Geoff Grant echoed, “If you want the best 128 kids in America on the court, and you want to have quotas, then you have to have larger draws.”

One parent who asked to remain nameless said, “Over and over, I just kept hearing the words ‘USTA Politics’.  Not one time during the 2.5 hours did I hear a USTA official say a single thing about doing what is right for the kids.  For all of you people within this USTA volunteer system, for all of you people who voted for this politically derived mess – shame on you! Shame on you people for not having any real concern for the kids and only caring about the politics.  And shame on you Ellen Ehlers for sitting there shaking your head and having a face filled with disdain at every comment from every heartfelt parent who actually attends these tournaments and actually knows these children who are impacted.  While I still hold hope that good prevails over evil in this situation, what last night meant for me is that the USTA politics are more pervasive and onerous than I ever would have been led to have believed.  If the sport wasn’t so beneficial, my kids would be playing another because of the USTA’s involvement.”

Chris Boyer emailed, “While I greatly appreciate the USTA finally coming around to the strong suggestions of ‘listening’ to its constituency, which after all is the very fabric of the organization, I was at the same time frankly shocked at the number of times the USTA executives mentioned the word ‘politics’.  From what I heard, much of the rationale that was given for these ill-conceived changes had more to do with ‘politics’, than logical business reasoning.  Since when do politics preside over what’s best for the kids?  As a businessman, and looking at this purely from an organizational standpoint, it appears that the root cause of this issue and so many others that seem to be permeating the USTA lately, is about the organization’s structure, and how it fosters the allowance of politics and incompetencies to come into play so frequently.  Just the mere fact that the these ‘town hall meetings’ need to take place – and when they do are so cantankerous – is an indictment of the organization itself and way of doing business, in my opinion. There are clearly a lot of people very upset with the USTA.”

I got a call this morning from parent Bob Cummins who wanted to share his thoughts on the meeting and the 2014 changes.  He told me that he realized after sitting through the meeting that the thing that’s really bothersome to him is that the Points-Per-Round system has created a “feeding frenzy” of people playing so many tournaments and just going a couple of rounds to earn points.  Some people can’t afford to travel to so many tournaments, and so they’re “locked out” of the system.  SoCal got the PPR system a couple of years ago – before that, they used the STAR system which focused on who you beat rather than how many tournaments you played.  Bob is all for getting more people involved in the sport, getting more people traveling and enjoying the big events like Copper Bowl and the team events.  He thinks USTA’s intention is to keep families out of the tennis “rat race” by eliminating a number of national tournaments so kids don’t have to travel so much and suggested that maybe those big events need to be kept separate from the national schedule so players aren’t locked out because of a tie-in to the national points system. That’s certainly an interesting proposal to consider, and I hope USTA takes note of it.

One parent who had planned to attend the meeting emailed me, saying, “I didn’t go to the meeting because they have worn me down and they just don’t listen or care.” That was disappointing to read. I hope it’s not a pervasive attitude among tennis parents because I do think we need to continue fighting for our kids and their tennis opportunities while there’s still a chance to get USTA to put a pause on the 2014 changes.

When is USTA going to listen – REALLY LISTEN – to its constituents and pause these changes until they can be properly vetted?  When is USTA going to engage the people who are in the trenches, spending several weeks each year at these junior tournaments, to create a schedule that makes sense?  The 2014 schedule was created by – and is being defended by – people like Scott Schultz, Ellen Ehlers, Andrea Norman, and Lew Brewer, who, by the way, have NO CHILDREN PLAYING JUNIOR TENNIS either at a competitive level or at all.  They are NOT the ones who should be determining the fate of junior tennis in the U.S.  What’s it going to take for USTA to push the pause button?

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.

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