Port Washington has had a hidden gem in its midst for the past 50 years. The Port Washington Tennis Academy (PWTA) is a nonprofit teaching facility that has taught tennis greats including Tracy Austin, John and Patrick McEnroe, Vitas Gerulaitis and Mary Carillo, among others. Virtually every well-known tennis player has played at the internationally acclaimed facility. The PWTA and owner Dick Zausner will be honored at the 26th Annual U.S. Tennis Association’s awards dinner on May 3 at Château Briand in Mineola.
Zausner’s goal has never been to find the next big-name tennis player. His goal is to help everyone who passes through the PWTA be able to get an education. PWTA helps high school students find a college that is right for them based on their capabilities and goals. “Education will always be our main focus,” said Zausner. “Some tennis schools are looking for the next big name, but they fail 99 percent of the time. I’m looking to help all my students get a college education, so
I succeed 99 percent of the time.”
PWTA accepts students into the tennis program on scholarships based on financial need. Players that don’t have a financial need are accepted as well, but they have to pay.
“Not all students accepted at PWTA receive a scholarship. John McEnroe was the best but he did not receive a scholarship. Vitas Gerulaitis did receive a scholarship,” said Zausner.
The PWTA is the largest indoor tennis facility on the East Coast, with 17 indoor courts (4 hard, 13 Har-Tru clay) and an elevated 1/4 mile indoor running track. Each court has a spectator gallery for viewing. The international teaching staff includes 12 tennis pros and 18 other staff members. There is a “pro-tel,” or hotel for the pros, on the property for them to live in if they choose to.
Hy Zausner, Dick’s father, started the PWTA in 1966 as a community haven for kids to learn a skill—tennis—and keep them out of trouble. It was one of the first indoor tennis facilities on Long Island. Dick took over after his father’s death in 1992.
The PWTA is a charity supporting children and local charities that help kids. In addition to tennis scholarships, PWTA has donated funds to support a baseball field run by another nonprofit, Port Washington Youth Activities, and made contributions to the Children’s Center, Parent Resource Center, PAL, Port Washington Youth Council, Port Counseling Center, Friends of the Port Washington Library, Community Chest and other local kid-oriented nonprofits.
USTA Long Island Region President Daniel Burgess trained at the facility as a youth. “I tried out and was accepted but my parents couldn’t afford it,” said Burgess. “I was given a scholarship. Dick is very humble, but he’s trained, housed and fed many kids. He’s changed their lives.”
Zausner was always cognizant of the fact some students had no spending money. “Dick always provided free snacks—cookies, bananas—and drinks,” said Burgess. “He never had vending machines because he knew some kids couldn’t buy a drink because they had no money.”
“I never wanted anyone to know who was there on a scholarship and who wasn’t,” said Zausner. “Many children came here hungry.”
The facility is a mecca of the sport and Zausner keeps it in meticulous condition. The PWTA hosted the Rolex Tournament for 25 years. Zausner’s late wife, Madeline, ran tournaments at the facility with precision and skill. The Madeline Zausner Junior Tournament Director Award is given every year in her honor.
While PWTA has trained many tennis champions over the years, Zausner, a Port resident for more than 40 years, said he is most proud of his nonprofit facility and how it has helped train thousands of children and young adults who couldn’t afford lessons.
“Often a child is referred from a pro or word of mouth. Someone knows someone who sees a promising kid with insufficient funds,” Zausner said. Money to support the programs comes from Dick’s family and friends as Dick feels the PWTA is both the future and a haven for kids. The staff plays an intricate part, helping students apply for and receive college scholarships, or obtain entry into prestigious universities.
This year, the PWTA is teaching about 250 to 300 students. In years past, as many as 500 were learning at the PWTA. In addition to the junior programs for ages four through 18, there are adult programs as well, which include all levels from beginner to tournament caliber.
PWTA is located at 100 Harbor Rd. Go to www.pwta.com for more information.