In 2018, the Oceanside 65-and-over mixed doubles tennis league had 38 members and played eight matches. In 2019, it grew to 42 members and 11 matches. And in 2020, a year of lockdowns and self-isolation, the league swelled to 55 members and conducted 25 matches. Given the mental effects of the pandemic, the league’s growth has been helpful to many older people looking to get out.
“Tennis players aged 65 and over for the most part have more free time and play a lot more tennis than before they were retired,” league co-founder Allan Silverstein explained.
Silverstein teamed with Susan D’Alessandro to organize the league when they found themselves often playing against athletes close to half their age. The two have competed in male and female exclusive divisions, but saw an opportunity for growth with a mixed league.
“Al called a number of men and I had the contacts for the women, and our mixed doubles league just took off,” D’Alessandro said.
The league provides an outlet for older adults who otherwise might be lonely or inactive given the ongoing societal lockdown amid the coronavirus pandemic. Silverstein and D’Alessandro said they both realized the importance of their league in such conditions.
For their efforts, Silverstein and D’Alessandro will be honored with the United States Tennis Association’s League Award at its Eastern Tennis Conference, which will be held virtually Jan. 25-30. Despite the lack of an in-person event, the two said they were thrilled that they will be honored for their efforts.
“It’s wonderful to know that Al and I are recognized for keeping the senior players playing competitively and enjoying the sport we all love,” D’Alessandro said.
Silverstein is also excited to see that their efforts will be acknowledged across the country. “It’s our hope that the USTA will support the development of leagues such as ours for seniors in other locations,” he said.
Jonathan Klee, regional director for USTA Eastern Long Island, praised Silverstein and D’Alessandro for their efforts. “Without their initiative, that league wouldn’t have gotten off the ground.” he said. “Their dedication to the game is unparalleled.”
Klee added that the sport lends itself well to social distancing, and thus is a perfect outlet for the times.
“Tennis is so important right now for both our mental and physical health,” D’Alessandro said. “Two hours of tennis absolutely clears your mind and gets you recharged.”
Her assessment is backed by William Killgore, the author of a recent research letter that appeared in the December issue of Psychiatry Research. In the letter, Killgore revealed that an online survey found that 65 percent of respondents reported high levels of loneliness. Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website lists higher rates of depression, anxiety and suicide as effects of loneliness.
Even with an award coming their way, Silverstein and D’Alessandro have plans to grow and improve the league going into 2021 and beyond.
“We’ve had two USTA teams competing these past few years, and as our group grows each year and more players are turning 65, it looks like we can create a third team on Long Island,” D’Alessandro said.” It’s already a good sign that USTA league play, which didn’t start last year until July, has already started on Long Island.”
Those interested in joining or learning more about the league can do so by visiting tennislink.usta.com. To join, players must have a current USTA membership and enter their player rating. Player ratings are self-reported, based on players’ assessment of their level of skill and competitiveness.