Catskill Cup tennis tourney this weekend
By John Bernhardt
To Fleischmanns resident Mark Birman, tennis is more than a sport. For Mark tennis is part of his family heritage, a social network that brings together people from all walks of life, and a perfect teaching tool encouraging fitness, strategic thinking, poise under pressure and sports etiquette.
This weekend’s Catskill Cup in Fleischmanns brings Mark full circle, back to his tennis roots. Birman started playing tennis on the public courts in Fleischmanns as a child with his dad, Henry, and some of Henry’s closest friends.
Getting an early start
At age six, Mark learned to love tennis, playing against folks like Sindy Becker, Muriel Stone, Bob Gould, Hank Schlittner and Wojtek Pogawski. Decades later, Mark still enjoys time on the courts with those same folks.
When Mark launches this weekend’s Catskill Cup it will continue a tradition that stretches back to the 1970s. As a youngster, Mark played in the Fleischmanns Open, a local tennis tournament started and directed for 34 years by Sindy Becker. Birman assisted Becker during the last two open tournaments then, when Becker retired, took the reins as director, renaming the tournament the Catskill Cup three summers ago.
Birman’s appetite for tennis was enormous during his early years. Beginning at age eight and running every other year through age 18, Birman competed in junior tennis tournaments supervised by the United States Tennis Association.
At the 16- and 18-age levels, junior tennis tournaments are a big deal. Junior tournaments were once the minor leagues of tennis. When you played a junior tournament at the highest age levels, you often squared off against guys we watch play professionally on TV.
Mark played high school tennis at Stuyvesant, the number two tennis team in New York City. “I don’t know what it says about my game, but Stuyvesant was the top tennis school in the city for seven straight years before I made the team,” laughed a good-natured Birman as he talked about his high school days.
Birman gave up tennis for skiing when he attended Boston University. A career as an attorney left little time for recreational pursuits. When he did have free time, Birman spent more time on the golf links than the tennis courts.
Birman didn’t really return to serious tennis until he was 39. Feeling out of shape, Mark first hoped to use tennis to improve his fitness. A new court at his home allowed Mark to work tennis into his daily routine. It didn’t take long before the old competitive juices flowed. Once Birman got a taste of tennis again the old passion returned. That passion found Birman playing in the USTA 40-and-over events where he climbed the ranking ladder quickly, at one time ranked number 14th in the East.
It was the Fleischmanns Open that helped Mark launch his second career as a tennis instructor. On-and-off, Mark competed in the open at least 15 times. Birman had a sense that he might like to try teaching tennis so when he played his last few times he asked Becker to match him up against some local high school participants. Those contests resulted in Birman talking tennis with the young players he faced. One player was Dale Fetterman, a 14-year-old rookie from Roxbury. Dale’s parents asked Mark if he would give Dale lessons. Mark agreed and a new career blossomed.
Birman began the certification process required by the Professional Tennis Registry for becoming a tennis instructor or coach. Candidates must demonstrate playing skills at certain proficiency levels, complete a certification course and pass an exam.
After earning his teaching certification, Birman started Tennis Everyone, a teaching school, at his residence in Halcott Center. He also helped launch the tennis program at Andes Central School as the school’s first coach.
Birman is a gifted tennis instructor. “The most important part of teaching tennis is to first know what you’re talking about,” Birman explained. “It’s critical you understand every facet of the game. Next, you have to be able to communicate that knowledge to the learner, understanding each student as an individual, where they are and where they would like to go.”
According to Birman, good tennis instructors almost always love what they do. His enthusiasm for teaching tennis proves that’s true. Birman emphasizes it’s critical you make sure basic fundamentals are correct. “Correct repetition leads to correct muscle memory,” he notes.
Birman views the Catskill Cup as much more than a tennis tournament. This year’s Cup highlights some new features. On Friday at 11 a.m. the event will kick off with a Junior Tournament, the first Quick Start tournament ever held in this region.
For years in America, the tennis industry has taught children to play the game on the same regulation courts and using the same equipment as adults. Countries from other parts of the world modify the playing area and tennis rackets used by beginning tennis players based on the age of the athletes. Next year, all USTA Junior Tournaments will be Quick Start events. The Catskill Cup’s Junior Tournament this weekend is USTA sponsored and will be governed by Quick Start regulations.
For the first time, the Cup will also be forging a partnership with the Belleayre Music Festival. Saturday night, Cup participants or people looking for a night on the town can take in a full slate of activities at Belleayre’s Upper Lodge. A Hall of Fame dinner will get the night underway beginning at 5:30 p.m. The dinner package includes a ticket for the Miles Davis concert under the tent at Belleayre. The night will conclude with a D.J. and dance in the upper lodge.
As always the main Cup event takes place Saturday and Sunday on the courts in Fleischmanns. Nearly 50 tennis enthusiasts will compete for championships in five divisions: Men’s Open Singles, Men’s 55 and Over Singles, Women’s Open, Mixed Doubles and Open Doubles.
Two number one singles players on this springs area high school teams will be playing. James Warner from Margaretville and Eric Reed of Andes will both compete in the Open Division. Birman calls Reed a player to watch at that level and figures the Andes graduate should compete with defending champion Paul Gorzula and Jack Leroux for this year’s crown.
Andrew Janiak, the defending champion of the Men’s 55 and Over Singles will return to defend his title. Meredith Barcia and Agnes Janis are players to watch in the Open Division.
Birman encourages the public to come out and enjoy the tennis action and to cheer on the competitors in a beautiful setting.
Proceeds for the Catskill Cup are used to promote and advance the sport of tennis in the area. Money received from this year’s Cup will be used to resurface the Fleischmanns public tennis courts.