The Long Island tennis community is a tight-knit one, where almost everybody knows each other, no matter where you are from or what club, park or court you play at.
And few people are more visible or known than Kathy Miller, the General Manager at Carefree Racquet Club in North Merrick. Miller has served in that role for more than two decades now, and is one of the key components of what makes the tennis community here on Long Island special.
Miller grew up in Bellmore and has been part of Carefree since its inception. Her parents had their own seasonal court there when the facility first opened when Miller was in high school.
“When it first started, it operated more with people renting their own seasonal court and being responsible for taking care of that court,” she said. “And then it grew into hosting leagues, offering junior programming, learn and play programs for adults, clinics, etc., and was always evolving into what it is today.”
Miller began as the club’s Assistant Manager in 1985, and took over the role of General Manager 22 years ago in 1998. In all of her time running a Long Island tennis club, Miller says there has never been a year quite like 2020.
“There’s nothing I can compare it to,” she said. “After we re-opened, we had to take care of some makeups that we owed people for previous lessons, clinics and leagues we had to cancel when we shutdown. We also offered refunds to people. Money was scarce when we came back and we weren’t sure what business was going to be like. It turned out to be the opposite of what we feared. Once September came around and people began to feel more comfortable, it’s been unbelievably busy.”
While Carefree’s camp participation numbers remained about the same as previous years, Miller says all other aspects of its programming increased:
“We’ve gotten a lot of new customers as well. I think a lot of people during the pandemic, when tennis was deemed a safe sport, a lot of people decided to pick up a racket. And I guess the people who found they liked the sport have come indoors. So we have seen a lot of new customers and it’s great.”
The news of a successful vaccine now being distributed throughout the country is promising, but that does not mean we are out of the woods yet with the COVID-19 pandemic. Cases are surging here in New York and the potential of another shutdown, although not likely, remains a possibility.
“I think with all the steps we’ve taken to keep the place safe has helped us a lot and made us prepared for whatever comes our way,” said Miller. “We have had a couple players here test positive, and we quickly made sure that everyone was made aware, postponed the league, and told people they needed multiple negative tests before returning. It’s unfortunate that we’ve had a few cases but we’ve handled it well, doing contact tracing and making sure we communicate to our customers and staff as well.
In terms of another shutdown, we have the mentality that we won’t have to do that again, but in the back of my mind I know it’s a possibility. We saw cases rise in the weeks after Thanksgiving, and I’m sure we’ll see them rise after Christmas as well. But we are making sure we’re prepared for whatever comes.”
Miller’s involvement in the local tennis community goes beyond her running Carefree. She is part of a tennis family, one that includes her daughter and son, both of whom played at South Side High School in Rockville Centre. Her daughter met her husband at a USTA Sectional Championship event in Albany, and their two kids, ages four and six, are just starting to take tennis lessons now.
For the last 32 years, Miller has been in charge of USTA Long Island’s Adult League, which operates throughout the Island with an array of divisions. When she took it over, back in 1988, there were less than 500 players, and today that number has ballooned to more than 4,000 league players. While the league has grown exponentially under Miller’s leadership, she lends the credit elsewhere.
“I’m so lucky to have great team captains,” she said. “If I hear about a player who is exhibiting bad sportsmanship, I’ll usually call the captain and tell them I’ve been getting complaints, and that he/she should talk to them before a grievance is filed. Most of the captains are wonderful and on top of that. The clubs have also always been so supportive. They are accommodating in terms of booking court time and hosting matches. Without the support of the captains and the clubs, there wouldn’t be a league.”
Just like everything else this year, running the leagues during a pandemic has been a challenge. The numbers in the summer were down as people were unsure if they should play due to COVID. The numbers returned to normal during the fall with the Tri- Level and 18 & Over Mixed Doubles leagues.
“The feedback I got was that people were willing to go play at the club they normally play at but not really comfortable traveling to a different place to play,” said Miller.
It will be interesting to see what the numbers look like in the winter leagues, and at the time of this article Miller was beginning to prepare her registration e-mails to be sent out to the captains and teams. And as the calendar turns from 2020 to 2021, Miller will continue to work tirelessly to ensure that both Carefree and the Adult League operate safely and successfully, and remains optimistic about what the future holds for tennis on Long Island.
“I think the last few months have brought a lot of new people into the game, and introduced the sport to a lot of new players, and hopefully tennis will be on the upswing again.”
Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for Long Island Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.