» News

A Profile of Dick Zausner

December 16, 2015 01:24 PM

Dick Zausner, Tennis Lover, Tennis Hero, Tennis Advocate


If you want to hear about the great tennis stars and coaches that have played and practiced tennis at the PWTA (Port Washington Tennis Academy), Director Dick Zausner will say, “no comment,” or begrudgingly tell you snippets of anecdotes and information. But Dick will gladly tell you about his non-profit facility and how the Academy has helped train children and young adults who couldn’t afford to pay for lessons. Ever since it’s inception, the Academy has trained youths to optimize their game.

On a back road in Port Washington stands the world’s largest contiguous indoor tennis facility in the world. Dick says, “The operative word is contiguous. This is all one large facility; there are no parts of the Tennis Academy across the street or down the road. What was once a small tennis Academy with a few outdoor courts has become a massive facility with 17 enclosed courts (13 clay and 4 har- tru) and an elevated (above the courts) ¼ mile running track, 12 pros and 18 other staff members. A seven million-dollar renovation made this all possible back in 2003.”

Dick’s father, Hy, started the PWTA in 1966. A  former Boy Scout leader, Hy Zausner believed in the philosophy of giving back to others and imparted his wisdom onto Dick.  The Academy was built to give the community an activity, keep children out of trouble, and try to steer them away from alcohol and drugs.  Dick said he left Manhattan to assist his father (who had some ongoing health issues), and began to run the business a few years before his father’s death in 1992.

Dick wasn’t always in the tennis business. While he served in the Navy on an aircraft carrier, he produced a weekly newspaper and arranged tickets to various events and shows when the sailors went ashore. Returning to civilian life, Dick and a fellow employee at Julien J. Studley realtors started their own real estate company, purchasing small apartment buildings around Columbia University.  Dick also worked at book publisher Prentice Hall, and today publishes the online magazine, College & Junior Tennis.  The magazine has been in existence for over 40 years, 30 years in hard copy and over 10 years online. The magazine is continually updated, offering articles, columns, scores from the NCAA Championships and USTA Nationals Winners.

The PWTA is a 501 (c) (3) charity. As with the ebb and flow of the economy, there have been both lean and profitable years for the Academy. It was only in 2008/09 that  charity donations were suspended. But shortly after that time, donations were again allocated and continue to be distributed. Dick prefers  his charities to support children only. He listens to his own guidelines and donates locally (through PWTA) where he can make a verifiable and visible difference. He supports local charities other than tennis, and has donated funds to support a baseball field run by another non-profit, Port Washington Youth Activities,  and has 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 nonprofit groups. He chuckles that, “unless your activities support the children of greater Port Washington, you’re not getting PWTA funding.”

In prosperous times, the Academy serviced as many as 500-600 children; this year they are teaching approximately 250-300 kids.  “Often a child is referred from a pro or word of mouth. Someone knows someone who sees a promising kid with insufficient funds,” says Dick. Money to support the programs comes from Dick’s family and friends as Dick feels the Academy is both the future and a haven for kids. The youths that have been helped usually come from within a 25-mile radius of the Academy. The staff plays an intricate part, helping the student apply and receive college scholarships, or obtain entry into an Ivy League school. Admission to an Ivy, even when you’re a little shy of all the requirements, is not impossible. “A sport like tennis helps,” says Dick. 

At the facility’s food service area, bananas, cookies, soups, milk, tea, coffee, lemonade and orangeade are offered for free. Too many times, children came here hungry, reveals Dick.  For some time, there was free chocolate pudding for the kids.  A well-known food manufacturer would supply PWTA with all their mislabeled pudding snack packs. Everyone enjoyed an almost unlimited supply of pudding.

Dick shies away from publicity. He cares about his employees and runs the company like one would run a family. “There are no revolving doors here,” says Dick. “Gina Armet, corporate secretary, has been here for 21 years and some of the pros have been here for over 30 years.”

For many years as Rules Chairman of USTA Eastern’s Junior Competition Committee, Dick was the “go to guy” asked to solve any rules disputes within the entire Eastern Section’s heavy schedule of year-round weekly tournaments. His wife, Madeline, who unfortunately passed away in 2008 from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, was also quite involved with the Academy. She was the tournament director at hundreds of PWTA Eastern Tennis Association tournaments for 18-and-under junior players and played a major role in all Port Washington Tennis Academy programs for children and adults. 

Together both Dick and Madeline biked around the world on over 25-30 trips.  Some of his favorite trips were in Myanmar (Burma) and Vietnam.

When asked how many hours Dick spends at the Academy,  Gina Armet yells out, “Way too much!”  Dick laughs and admits to 7 days/week for about seven hours each day. The Academy  is open from 8AM – 11PM and is staffed by three shifts in order for the staff to live a full life. “The staff has a right to go home and have a family. We are not out to make the last dollar,” says Dick as he reiterates, “We are a non-profit!”

During a recent U.S. Tennis Open, the Serbian team practiced at the Academy.  No announcements were made and the children were told “no autographs.” Dick tries to keep it secret when a tennis star or team practices at the Academy, assuring privacy for both the team and Academy members. He laughs at recalling a time when a Russian team used nearby hotel facilities; their bills were stamped “CIA.” The Russians were concerned.  After a flurry of heated Russian conversations the team was relieved to hear that ‘’CIA” meant, “Cash in Advance”.

For 24 years, the famed International Rolex Tennis Tournament was held here, but when the Academy went through a three-year period of new construction and renovation, PWTA asked the ITF (International Tennis Federation) in London to pick another site for this important event.  However, PWTA has continued (now over a 50-year period) to run USTA Eastern’s tournaments.

A unique feature of the Academy is the “Protel, ” as Dick calls it – a hotel for pros. A college-like dormitory with six rooms and bathrooms and common areas, it provides affordable rents for tennis pros.

Asked to tell good and bad stories about the Academy, Dick sighed and said there are always problems, particularly with storms, including the recent Hurricane Sandy which caused a plethora of physical havoc and damage.

One of his best stories involved a young lady who had dropped out of tennis in favor of a bad group during her high school years. He brought her to a U.S. Open and induced her to become re-involved with tennis. Eventually, she graduated from an Ivy League school. Upon looking for an apartment to rent while she was working, the building agent wasn’t sure she could afford the apartment and didn’t want to show it to her. She then called the owner and purchased the entire building.

Dick Zausner’s charitable ways far outreach the Tennis Academy. He honors his staff and ensures a family atmosphere at work. He provides for children, both within the tennis world, and outside. A humble man, Dick will not brag about the many  people and charities he’s supported. But Dick’s made a difference – a difference with his staff and the thousands of children that have been enlightened within the world of tennis.

We thank Dick Zausner for his compassion and mission in helping young people discover the joys and enrichment of tennis. Dick has certainly enriched so many, many lives.

By Jane McCabe