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LI community tennis programs concerned about losing funding if U.S. Open is canceled because of COVID-19 pandemic

Atmosphere at the 2019 US Open at Billie

Atmosphere at the 2019 US Open at Billie Jean National Tennis Center in New York City, NY USA on August, 26, 2019. Photo by Corinne Dubreuil/Abaca/Sipa USA(Sipa via AP Images) Credit: Sipa USA via AP/Abaca Press

While United States Tennis Association officials ponder whether they will be able to hold the U.S. Open this year at the National Tennis Center during the COVID-19 pandemic, Danny Burgess is concerned what will happen to his community tennis program in Freeport if the Open is not played.

Profits from the Open, scheduled to begin on Aug. 31, drive the USTA’s efforts to fund the game all the way down to the grassroots across America. As a not-for profit, the USTA  uses its monies to promote the game and intends to pour more than $35 million into community based programs this year.

Burgess is hoping to get continued funding for his Learning Institute of Tennis, Life Skill and Sportsmanship organization that serves underprivileged children. Is he worried that if the Open isn’t played he will lose funds?

“Absolutely, absolutely,” said Burgess of Freeport. “With the U.S. Open, the sections wouldn’t have the money to do programs like mine . . . I would say that over 50% of the money for my programs comes from USTA grants.”

In April the USTA issued a comprehensive statement on how it intends to support the tennis community through the uncertainties of the pandemic and made clear it was putting money on the table. On Friday, a spokesman asserted that money would still be there, U.S. Open or no U.S. Open.

“Obviously, cancellation of the U.S. Open would have a significant impact on our association, but not an insurmountable one,” USTA spokesman Chris Widmaier said in an email to Newsday. “With many of our current agreements placing protections on cash flow and with years of careful financial planning and strategic financial decisions, the USTA has planned for, and is equipped to, get through this worse-case scenario.

“Additionally, the USTA is aggressively controlling all discretionary spending, including instituting salary reductions, eliminating nonessential programming, and curtailing capital expenditures through the remainder of the year to ensure our financial health and viability.”

The USTA’s funding of American tennis comes through the 17 sections across the United States with Long Island being one of the regions of the Eastern Section.

“All the funding from the U.S. Open supports after-school tennis programs and community programs,” said Jonathan Klee of Sands Point, Long Island Regional director of the USTA’s Eastern Section. “We supply equipment to the schools. Any school program that asks for rackets or balls or information on how to conduct a program, it’s all provided for free by the USTA. The majority of the money comes from the U.S. Open.”

Klee is concerned that there could be cuts in funding if the U.S. Open is not played and its revenue stream goes dry this year.

“Without USTA funding, many community programs across the country and on Long Island would not exist,” Klee said. “These programs are in low-income neighborhoods and would not be funded without the support that the USTA gets from the U.S. Open.

“In addition to the loss of these community programs, scholarships, jobs at these organizations would be cut. Saying the U.S. Open is solely about making a profit knows nothing about what the USTA does and its impact on diverse communities all across the United States.”

Another organization that benefits from USTA funding is Circulo De La Hispanidad with offices in Hempstead and Long Beach. An organization 40 years old, its mission is to help Hispanic immigrants but it reaches out to all. It has a tennis program for youth based at its Circulo Center in Hempstead, utilizing the center’s gym and public parks for  after-school and summer camp programs for about 80 children in Hempstead and 30 in Long Beach. Those programs depend on USTA funding.

“We are dependent on those USTA funds, but we want the U.S. Open to continue in a healthy and safe manner,” said Sarah Brewster, director of services and operation for the organization. “But we also recognize that yes, the loss of a U.S. Open results  in a loss of revenue and they do a lot to support to support programming.”

Sunny Fishkind of Bethpage, who is 78 but describes herself as “very immature,” has been involved in tennis for decades on Long Island as former Bethpage High tennis coach, as the director of the tennis camp at Hofstra in the summer for 35 years and being part of the Long Island regional board. She was inducted into the Eastern Section’s Hall of Fame this year.

Fishkind has seen USTA funding benefit some of her own work and provide widespread aid to needy communities.

“The USTA entitles every single kid in school in this whole country the opportunity to play tennis for nothing,” Fishkind said. “They supply every school with rackets, a whole curriculum for all the phys-ed teachers. It’s a program that goes from  kindergarten through high school.”

And for Fishkind, the Open isn’t just about money.

“I think the U.S. Open, even if there’s nobody there, if they put it on TV and the kids see tennis and every [ethnicity]  is playing tennis it’s wonderful for the kids to see,” she said. “If the kids see the U.S. Open on TV, and if they have a racket they can go outside and hit against a wall.”

That racket might have come from the USTA, courtesy of the profits from the U.S.Open.

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