There was a time a few years ago when the tennis purists in the New York area raised an eyebrow or two when the concept of the John McEnroe Tennis Academy first came up. The mercurial Hall of Famer had long talked about building the next set of American stars in a system he grew up with — one which gave some balance to a home life and one spent toiling 24/7 with groundstrokes and backhands. The idea had gone the way of the dinosaur, many said. Tennis players need to be farmed through academies, many of which were producing young non-American players at places in Florida and other resort locations.
Thanks, John, but your idea won’t work. Well, two years into the process, it looks like the John McEnroe Tennis Academy may just be on to something. The original facility on Randall’s Island is teeming with over 600 players from around the tri-state area — ones who go to school and then come and train afterwards and on select weekends. How successful is it?
On Monday, the Academy announced a new local director and an expansion into both Westchester and Long Island (along with a new tennis club in the Westchester town of Eastchester) to give even more young people exposure to the Johnny Mac system. The annexes and the original club at Sportime Randall’s Island will now be headed Lawrence Kleger, a 25-year tennis veteran coach who was hand-picked by McEnroe to be the Academy’s new Director of Tennis.
While maybe not the uber-coach that the international set would know, Kleger is a great reflection of what the JMTA has set out to do. He has coached more ranked junior tennis players than any other tennis coach in the history of the USTA Eastern Section, and is most proud that his students have won 18 USTA Eastern Year-End Sportsmanship Awards. In addition to running high level programs at JMTA, and at Sportime Clubs in Syosset and Bethpage on Long Island, he is also the personal coach of Noah Rubin, who now trains at JMTA and who has been Lawrence’s student since the age of 7. Rubin is a top American prospect and achieved a career-best #18 ITF junior world ranking for boys 18 and under this January (despite having just turned 16 in February) and is top ranked in U.S. 16 and under standings.
So what does this mean for the parents who looked to McEnroe to guide their young kids? Nothing but good news. “I’m not doing this just to put my name on something, if I am doing it I will be involved, both in Westchester and on Long Island, so that I can help the coaches and get face time with the kids,” said McEnroe. “That’s the only way this will work for me, if I’m there to guide it along.”
The expansion of the Academy, according to Sportime head Claude Okin, will give the young people now commuting to Randall’s island a better chance at balance, and McEnroe concurred.
“We will have those kids involved also come to Randall’s island, but they will now get a chance to be even more involved at these two other facilities on most days, because they will be closer to where they live,” said Okin. That proximity will now open the Academy even more to the deep talent pool on Long Island as well as a growing community of young people in Westchester, Rockland and the Lower Hudson Valley and New Jersey, when the new Lake Isle Facility opens in the fall.
“It all has to be about developing a well-rounded kid, and this will help us achieve that goal even more,” McEnroe added.
In order to help further the cause, the Hall of Famer has enlisted the support of another legend, Andre Agassi, to raise scholarship funds for the Johnny Mac Tennis Project. The two will square off — Agassi for the Boston Lobsters, McEnroe for the New York Sportimes, on July 19 as part of World Team Tennis at Randall’s Island. All the proceeds go to scholarships for young people looking to join the McEnroe Academy, many of whom come from households in the City who cannot afford the cost of training on any level.
“We are here to help change lives, and any way I can help John do that, especially through our sport, I will help,” Agassi added.
Details on The Academy and the facility are available at johnmcenroetennisacademy.com as well as the details on the complete Sportimes schedule, and what’s next for McEnroe and crew.
Purists, take note: a little change appears to be going a long way.