Fleischmanns Tennis Tournament Sindy Becker fondly recalls 34 years at the helm as true "labor of love"
By Sindy Becker
Janus is the Roman god of doors and thresholds. Positioned in the present, his dual visage faces backward, to the past, as he gazes forward to the future. For the first time in more than three decades. I have not spent this week in a frenzy of activity, making preparations to orchestrate the Fleischmanns Tennis Tournament. Dubbed by Mark Birman “a labor of love,” the love ultimately required more labor than I, and my forever right-hand man Malcolm were physically able to sustain. The luxury of time without pressure allows me the opportunity to Janus-like reflect on what has occurred these past 34 years, and project as to what may be.
In 1975 the first Fleischmanns Open took place on two badly cracked, weed-choked courts. My son Bruce organized the event, which consisted of 12 players competing in men’s and women’s singles for a registration fee of $1. Shortly thereafter Bruce defected. His parting words before leaving for college, “Mom, you can do this.” And I did.
As in most tournaments, the Fleischmanns Open has showcased an expected quota of cliff hangers, “dark horses,” world class matches, upsets, ringers disappointments and triumphs, and been held hostage by the weather. It has also been quite different from other tournaments. As an anticipated event of the summer season, its success, measured by more than the number of registrants, but by the symbiotic relationship that it has engendered among community businesses, visitors and participants. Its players have created an extended “tennis family,” a network with social bonds of friendship that transcend time and place, reaching across state, national and international boundaries. Locally, get-togethers take place almost every day at the village courts, where a nonexclusive, cohesive group congenially compete. Conversely, a fission/fusion model applies. Many of the players see each other only once a year, during the tournament weekend, an annual joyous reunion and time to catch up on each other’s lives.
Kingdon Gould, part of the tournament’s “founder stock,” a dynamic force on and off the court, was responsible for the acquisition of the hospitality tent. Its yellow and white stripes served as a welcoming beacon, signifying that a weekend of exciting festivities was upcoming. Until their deaths, my parents officiated as the “meeters and greeters,” dispensing refreshments and conversation from this tournament hub. The trophy cup which is engraved with the names of all the champions in every division from 1974 to 2008 was also conceived of and attended by Kingdon. With no water previously available for those who utilized the park, in 1994 the tennis community erected a fountain with three tiers for adults, children and pets, to honor the memory of Lucille Rottkov, who opened her Wagner Avenue home and her heart to tournament participants.
The catastrophic flood of 1996 washed away significant segments of the two back courts. Supporters rallied to the cause, raising sufficient funds for repair and restoration. With four available courts, the number of participants and division options increased, and additional features were incorporated. The post tournament trophy and award presentation was expanded to include a buffet luncheon. Throughout the prevailing harsh economic climate that is the norm for this area, local businesses, and individuals have donated extremely generous gifts. In lieu of giving expensive prizes to the winners (all registrants receive a “goody bag” with balls, a tournament shirt and promotional items), in 2000 for the 21st Annual, a benefit auction became part of the agenda. Launched as the resident auctioneer, Bob Novak elicited bids from the captive but exceedingly philanthropic audience, for contributed items such as jewelry, artwork and gift certificates for restaurants, merchandise and the like. Auction proceeds in 2000 ($689). 2001 ($1,450) and 2002 ($920) were deposited into a Tennis Court Escrow Fund, established for the ongoing repair and maintenance of the courts, which, due to extreme weather conditions required resurfacing again. Massive fund-raising efforts within the tennis community resulted in donations which totaled more than $20,000, which was used to redo the courts and enclose them within regulation fencing. This tennis complex, far superior to facilities in more populated, affluent municipalities, which is open for the use and enjoyment, at no charge to village residents and area visitors, has become the “crown jewel” of the Fleischmanns Park. An engraved racquet-shaped granite monument was erected and dedicated in 2002. It stands as a testament to the generosity and determination of the benefactors who made this achievement possible.
In 2003, auction proceeds of $2,007 were donated for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis research, to honor Margaret Sullivan, the official tournament photographer and five-time women’s champion who was stricken with this devastating disease. In 2004, $1,360 was deposited in an escrow fund designated for the purchase of a new piece of equipment for the children’s playground. With my granddaughter Brooke as our inspirational poster girl, all auction proceeds in 2005 ($1,790), 2006 ($3,200), 2007 ($2,795) and 2008 ($3,000) were donated for Juvenile Diabetes Research. In its nine-year history, a total of $17,202 was contributed for community oriented projects and disease research.
In 2003 Tony Lanza, superintendent of Belleayre Mt. Ski Center, committed to promoting this area as a four- season tourist destination (via amenities such as the Pine Hill Lake, and by forging a private/public partnership with the Belleayre Music Festival), initiated a micro sponsorship program for the Fleischmanns Open. Positive publicity was generated through promotions such as photos of the champions wearing Belleayre hats and the “Beast” playing tennis at the village courts. From 2004 through 2008, all players received a specially designed, double logo ski/tennis tournament shirt. (These now have become collectors’ items.)
The history of the tournament has been documented with photographs, images captured, assembled and mounted as an annual collage. Each, a visual record, depicting more than tournament activity, but the passage of time and people, transitions, increments and loss.
A significant population segment of the Fleischmanns “international” Open has been the Polish community, as participants and contributors. Many of the top seeds reside locally, others have crossed state lines and oceans to join their friends for tournament weekend. Women spectators have graced the primitive bleachers, fashionably dressed, replete with elegant hats, bringing a cosmopolitan aura to the village park.
A terminal is by definition an end point. It marks the end of a journey. A terminal is also a point of connection, serving as the threshold to a new destination. The 35th Annual will not take place this week. My official tenure has ended. The 1st Annual Catskills Cup will make its debut; its director is young, dynamic, dedicated and a skilled tennis professional. I have been rewarded with the priceless gift of irreplaceable memories, to be cherished, recalled and recollected, treasured always. Mark, your challenging and exciting journey begins. I hope that you have 34 upcoming years as special and gratifying as these past decades have been for me.