The Feeling, The History, The Nats at the Zoo by Jack Newman
Before things got too busy here at Kalamazoo, I wanted to give everyone a sense of what it feels like to be at the biggest junior tournament in the United States: the Boy’s 16s and 18s USTA National Hardcourts, hosted by Kalamazoo College and Western Michigan University for the past 75 years.
I have personally traveled to Kalamazoo over 25 times for this tournament, with my only misses to attend the Girl’s 16s and 18s Hardcourt Nationals.
The things that set this tournament apart from other junior tournaments are the history, the environment and the level of play. With a U.S. Open main draw wildcard on the line for the winner, the Nats at the Zoo draws Americas best junior players. Each match has a chair umpire. The sites are run like a Swiss watch. Blueberries and cream are served at the concession stand. College coaches surround matches like bees around Texas bluebonnets.
ATA has been lucky to have players in this tournament each year for the past 14 years of its existence and, prior to that, many of our students from Saint Stephen’s and Fretz Tennis Center earned a chance to play this tournament.
The tournament has many traditions and, in parallel, our trip to this tournament also has had many traditions. One such tradition is where we stay. The Stewart Avenue Inn is a bread and breakfast across the street from Kalamazoo College. Our visits to Stewart Avenue include a made-to-order breakfast and living in a house rather than hotel room.
We have stayed at the Stewart Avenue through the tenure of three different innkeepers. Chris and Dana, the current innkeepers, have always had a dog, first Belvedere now Arlo. The Stewart Avenue Inn offers us a home away from home and a very comfortable environment in a very high-stress level tournament.
Another tradition is coming up a few days early to get acclimated to the weather and the courts. Another tradition is team meetings each evening in the living room of the Stewart Avenue Inn where we go over the day’s events and plan for the next days matches. One final tradition is at the end of the tournament, many players are still in the middle of the college process, so we have college coaches come to visit and we sit with them in the Stewart Avenue Inn and talk recruiting.
To make it to Kalamazoo or SoKalamazoo for the girls is the pinnacle of junior tennis in the United States. Any player who makes it to this tournament, one or multiple times, is one of the best players in the United States. Many of America’s top professional champions made their first splash on the center courts at Stowe Stadium at Kalamazoo College. As you can see from the pictures enclosed, the Nats at the Zoo has a tremendous history and flavor to it.
I have watched many matches at the Nats at the Zoo with parents of players, with college coaches recruiting players, and with other members of the team supporting. Tres Davis has had the best results at Kalamazoo. Jake Berber and Payton Holden were two points away from the doubles semi finals one year. Adam Slagter and Santiago Montoya also had a great match on center court here one year. I remember Jeff Offerdahl and Chase Curry battling here. I remember sitting with Notre Dame coach Ryan Sachrie talking about Josh Hagar.
Congratulations to all of the current ATA players who have made it to Hardcourt Nationals, you have truly distinguished yourself among your junior tennis-playing peers. And, congrats to all our alumni, we remember your exploits as well.