I made a mistake...
By Jim Reffkin

March 2004

Have you ever done something that you were thoroughly convinced was the right thing to do and then later wished you did not do it? In other words, did you make a mistake and then regretted it?

Well, I think I definitely made a mistake; a big one! In the mid 1960s as an energetic young USTA volunteer who eventually became President (no one else wanted the job) of our local tennis association, I had high hopes to grow the game in Tucson. It was 1968, and I was convinced that in order to achieve growth we needed a stronger junior grassroots program to compete with "little league" baseball. Why reinvent the wheel? Copy what is already successful.

Even though it was 35 years ago, I remember this clearly. I requested support from the USTA office in Phoenix for a proposed "little league tennis program, but was turned down; actually, completely ignored. They frowned upon the idea, claiming tennis is an individual sport and league or team tennis would never work.

At the time I was Salpointe High School Athletic Director and tennis coach and was still convinced that it would work, and we needed to duplicate what all other sports had been so successful with -- team competition.

But as an impatient young man, it seemed there was only one answer; break the ties with Phoenix and establish our own USTA governing body. So with much fanfare, and a lot of help from founding fathers Al Kivel and John Payson, we established our own USTA District -- the Southern Arizona Tennis Association, a 501 C-3 non-profit association.

In hindsight, what should have happened at the time, and what I propose should happen now, is to have one strong governing body -- USTA Arizona. I admit, there is no doubt the decision making at the time was pure self-interest and was a little Phoenix versus Tucson mentality.

Last weekend I was in Williamsburg, Virginia presenting a workshop to their Mid-Atlantic tournament directors, and this issue came up. Sure enough, Virginia, like so many other states, have their own "state association," as well as the USTA Section association. The best way to understand this is to compare governance: Tucson and Phoenix has City, County, State and the United States Congress. All organized sports have local, state and national associations, and, like all states, Arizona has a high school association -- the AIA, the Arizona Interscholastic Association. The AIA is extremely powerful and serves as the "keeper" of all high school sports and is instrumental in providing the necessary changes to grow all high school sports and at the same time protect Arizona student athlete goals as well.

Obviously, "states rights" have always been an issue in our democracy, and it has the same influence in promoting sports -- it's the American way of doing things. The reason this issue comes up now is because of the recent USTA 2004 Operating Plan to promote Community Tennis. Its sole purpose/task is to PROMOTE AND DEVELOP THE GROWTH OF TENNIS.

In my mind, without a stong state network, the task will be all the more difficult. It is probably the reason why USA adult and junior team tennis have never flourished. It is probably why high school tennis has little respect and absolutely no USTA attention. It is why we do not have a strong statewide NJTL program. And most important, why, in this beautiful Sun Belt state, are we not able to develop more opportunities to attract and retain players?

It's because 35 years ago, I should have "sucked it up" and worked within the USTA system and begin to collaborate with Phoenix to establish a viable "state association" that would truly promote the game in Arizona. It's not too late. We have two ambitious presidents, Paul Burns and Jennifer Fuchs; both experienced tennis leaders capable of consolidating our resources so we can at last unilaterally support the 2004 USTA National Operating Plan. Let's start the process; let's grow the game in Arizona!