A Perfect Match A new location and a new coach revitalize the Boston Lobsters tennis team. by Jacqueline Dixon
The Boston Lobsters are at it again this 2009 season, and this year is expected to be as exciting as ever. Last March, the Ferncroft Country Club in Danvers made the North Shore the team’s permanent home. Bahar Uttam, the team’s owner, had high hopes that the move to the Ferncroft would help the team gain popularity-and he sure was right. Although golf has been the leading sport this side of Massachusetts, the North Shore’s enthusiasm for tennis has been growing rapidly since the Lobster’s move to Danvers. The team’s first season at the Ferncroft brought some much overdue attention to the team, as well as the sport of tennis. And although all went well last season, it still served as a learning curve for the team and all parties involved, and Uttam feels this year is going to be much easier. “Moving to the Ferncroft was the right thing to do. The North Shore has a huge tennis bed with over 40 different clubs and programs for tennis-everywhere from Woburn to Manchester. Since the move, we’ve seen a bigger attendance and we now have more sponsors. People used to ask me why I was in the seafood business when I mentioned the Boston Lobsters-I don’t get that question anymore,” Uttam said. But the move to the Ferncroft is old news, as this year all eyes are on the team’s new coach, Bud Shultz. When Uttam purchased the team in 2003, Shultz was the first person he went to for the coaching position. At the time, however, Shultz was dedicating a majority of time to his young children. Now, a few years later, his children are older and Shultz has never been more ready to take on the job. Having spent the past 30 years in Eastern Massachusetts, Shultz has had the chance to develop lasting friendships and professional acquaintances within the local tennis community. “All you have to do is walk into a tennis club on the North Shore and you’ll see that our sport is alive and thriving. The tennis community is pretty close knit. I’ve met so many great tennis enthusiasts on the North Shore and I think having the Lobsters at the Ferncroft Country Club is a perfect match,” Shultz said. A graduate of Bates College, Shultz was a three-time tennis All-American. After only a year of graduate school at Boston University, he started his professional playing career. With a high ranking of 39 in the world, wins over 5 top ten players, he retired in 1989 at the age of 29 to take the position of Director of Tennis and Head Pro at the Longwood Cricket Club in Brookline. But he made sure to continue his association with professional tennis through coaching high ranking players such as Ivan Lendl, Pam Shriver, and Greg Rusedski. Adding to his list of already qualifying credentials, Shultz received a master’s degree in sports management at UMass Amherst, took another position as the Manager and Head Pro at the Badminton and Tennis Club in Boston, served on the Board of the Boston Tennis Council, and was elected to the New England Tennis Hall of Fame in 2002. With a very successful draft this past March, the team is heading into the season with confidence, as well as a great mix of old and new talent. Jan-Michael Gambill is back this season with Raquel Kops Jones, along with two new tennis up-and-comers, Stepanie Foretz and James Auckland. Shultz said, “I know when fans come out to the matches they will be in awe of the level of play and leave thinking what these players can do with a tennis ball is magical.” However, Shultz’s dedication to the sport does not end on the court. In 1998, he and close tennis buddy Ned Eames, co-founded Tenacity, an after-school program designed to promote health, fitness, academics and of course tennis to inner-city children; the program provides support to over 5,000 children and quickly gained recognition. “Quite honestly, it’s the most satisfying and rewarding tennis experience I’ve had. The game of tennis has given me so much and I simply feel a responsibility to give back. In a similar way, getting kids to come see the Lobsters will hopefully inspire them in positive ways that will last a lifetime,” Shultz said. Shultz’s continuous encouragement for community outreach makes him a perfect fit with the Lobsters and the World Team Tennis philosophy of “tennis equality”. Billie Jean King, retired tennis star and co-founder of the World Team Tennis, firmly believes in equality not only in everyday life, but within the sport of tennis as well. King’s philosophy, “tennis is for everyone,” emerged from her family’s financial hardships as a child, which prevented her from participating in certain programs. Due to these personal experiences, the act of giving back is of utmost importantance to King. “If you have ever seen a World Team Tennis match, you have seen my philosophy on life. It’s men and women compet- ing together on equal terms with equal contributions. This is a great message to share with any community, especially with young people,” King said. And the league’s philosophy matches up well with their new partnership with the YMCA of the North Shore. The YMCA’s financial assistance program provides programs and services to over 5,500 individuals on the North Shore, but with only two tennis rackets and five tennis balls offering tennis as a program at the Ipswich branch was almost impossible. Gerry Beauchamp, the Executive Director at the Ipswich YMCA, said, “With about 40,000 members, it is really all about the kids. And we want to introduce tennis to a community that wouldn’t normally be able to experience the sport.” After Billie Jean King’s donation of tennis equipment last year, the YMCA of the North Shore reached out to the Boston Lobsters in hopes of receiving a similar donation for their lacking tennis program. Merri-Lynn Lanthrop, the Ipswich YMCA’s Aquatics Director, said, “The World Team Tennis offers a fresh new look for tennis with a fun and unique format. The crowd can cheer or boo, which isn’t typical tennis. And it is truly family-oriented. So, the partnership is a great match between the YMCA philosophy of including “all” and the relatively new World Team Tennis league’s desire to make tennis accessible to everyone regardless of income, race or demographic.” As an exciting affirmation of this partnership, the organizations are set to co-host “Kids to Camp Connection,” a private event with Billie Jean King on July 12 at the Sheraton Ferncroft Hotel in Danvers. There will be an exclusive reception with Billie Jean King, entertainment by Ayla Brown of American Idol, box seat tickets to the Boston Lobsters tennis match alongside King, and best of all, all proceeds from ticket sales will help send a child to camp in 2009. An even more enticing aspect to the Boston Lobsters is its aim to make their events as affordable as possible. For example, a family of 4 can attend a match for under $100, which is much less than a professional baseball game. This season the Boston Lobsters are hosting a bundle of events to help families enjoy a day out without emptying their pockets. Very aware that times are tough, the Boston Lobsters are proving they can put on a sporting event worth that extra buck. Along with the much anticipated marquee visit from Washington Kastles’ Serena Williams on July 9, Massachusetts children ages 13-18 will have the opportunity to write an essay focused on how Williams inspires them on and off the court. The lucky winner will receive 2 tickets to the match, meet Williams, as well as grab a picture with her. The deadline for the submission is June 1 and can be emailed to Debbie@bostonlobsters.net. The home opener is set for Monday, July 6 vs. the Kansas City Explorers, presented by Beverly Hospital. Other events include: Ladies Night and Business Networking on July 7 and Family Day on July 18, sponsored by Polar Beverages. Tickets can be bought online and cost $15-$30 (depending on the marquee) and $60 for box seats. Tickets for kids under 12 are $15. Season passes are also available for $125-$300. Tickets can be purchased by calling 877-617-5626 (LOBS) or visiting the team website at bostonlobsters.net.