By ROBERT TAUB
The New York Junior Tennis and Learning organization held its annual award luncheon Thursday where two of their legendary contributors were honored for growing the game of tennis in the New York City area.
Hall of Fame Coach Nick Bollettieri and former New York Mayor David Dinkins both received the NYJTL Lifetime Achievement Award in a rousing two-hour ceremony.
“He (Bollettieri) stands for everything this organization is about, he’s been involved in this organization all the way back to Arthur (Ashe), to kids and all that it means,” said Ken Solomon, Chairman and CEO of Tennis Channel. “He’s the man who in many ways has defined modern elite coaching and his record for building developing champions is going to last longer than the pyramids.”
Bollettieri is renowned in the tennis community and around the United States for teaching the game, the invention of the Bollettieri Academy and for having coached some of the best players both male and female over the past 40 plus years including Andre Agassi, Maria Sharapova and Anna Kournikova.
“My wife Cindy said, ‘Nick please wear a shirt today,'” said a joking Bollettieri. “Normally my wardrobe is just a pair of shorts.”
The 85-year-old Bollettieri soaked in the atmosphere as he thanked all the people on his journey.
Along with congratulating his fellow honoree David Dinkins, Bollettieri told the story about him and Arthur Ashe starting the Ashe Voluntary Program in Newark, New Jersey after Ashe asked him at the French Open, “Nick, what are we going to do about the thousands of boys and girls that will never strike a ball?” to which he replied, “Don’t worry about it, Arthur, I’ll take care of it”.
“Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to this luncheon, that has one mission, to make sure this program continues in one direction with no detours,” Bollettieti said.
After an thrilling speech by Bollettieri and a quick auction, legendary tennis player and womens’ activist Billie Jean King introduced the former mayor.
King recalled playing tennis with Dinkins and his 40 down the line shot with her standing at the net, and her being unhappy while Dinkins smiled ear to ear. “He’s the reason that we have the U.S. Open where it is today,” King said.
In 1990, Dinkins persuaded the Federal Aviation Administration to have special takeoff procedures for La Guardia Airport during the U.S. Open. In 1978, he shepherded the move of the Open from Forest Hills to Corona Park.
“I’ll never forget when that happened, and look what it has evolved into,” King added.
In 1993, there were talks of the U.S. Open being moved out of the city, but that didn’t come to fruition as Dinkins signed a 90-year lease to keep the event in New York.
“Everytime that we go out to the Open, I always thank you for making it possible to keep it here in our beloved city,” she said.
A small tribute video was shown in appreciation of Dinkins and when he took to the podium, he joked about checking the time knowing that the ceremony had gone past its limit.
“Boy that’s pretty damn good,” Dinkins said when he was notified he was going to be receiving the lifetime achievment award along with Bollettieri. “This is really a very special honor for me.”
Dinkins spoke highly of his good friend Skip Hartman who was the founder of the NYJTL and of the earlier days of when the organization started.
“It it such a pleasure for me. I make the observation that nobody but anybody gets anywhere along, somebody always stands on someone’s shoulders,” Dinkins said emotionally.
Two students, Christina Hyunn and Brandon Torres received the 2016 NYJTL Leadership award. Hyunn. 15 is a sophmore at Bronx High School of Science, while Torres, 14 has been a member of NYJTL’s Co-op City Program.
Photo of Nick Bollettieri