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Club Spotlight: Garden State Tennis Center

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Garden State Tennis Center owners show, “You can go home again…”

 

Garden State Tennis Center, Edison NJ October 29, 2016 - Spend any time at the Garden State Tennis Center in Edison, and it’s immediately apparent that owners John and Whitney Costanzo are all about two things: 1. Family and 2. Producing the best junior tennis players in the state of New Jersey.

Recently, John, Whitney, John Sr., and Director of Junior Development Gill Acosta, under the watchful eye of the couple’s new infant son Thomas, sat down with us and explained the origins of Garden State Tennis Center over some local pizza.

In existence since 1966 and part of a sprawling 15-acre sports facility off Inman Avenue that included a hockey rink, workout gym, turf field and a swimming pool, the club had lost its focus on tennis by early 2002.

John started as a teaching pro in 1996, coming out of Michigan as the No. 1 singles player and Big Ten champion, and moved to GSTC, formerly Inman Sports Complex, in 2002. Gill, a former member of the Cuban junior national team who spent time playing and teaching in Miami and New Jersey, joined the club in 2006.

As the family that inherited the facility began letting tennis become dormant, John and Gill were booking most of the center’s court time, teaching junior programs and holding adult clinics and lessons. In 2012, John and his wife, with help from his dad, John Sr. -- himself today a fixture at the club -- bought the tennis section of the complex.

John renamed and refurbished the club -- and re-focused on growing the sport he grew up loving as a young native of Sayreville. View post-renovation photos.

As another Jon says, “Who says you can’t go home?”

 

Stiff competition

Talking to John and Gill, who have been teaching young players for more than 20 years now, it’s clear they can complete each other’s sentences -- like the Bryan brothers moving together toward the net.

“Quite simply, we want to operate a really high-level junior program with great players and kids from all levels, producing the best young players in the state,” John says. “We want to remain a top teaching facility in New Jersey, with a top junior program.”

Almost every New Jersey Boys or Girl’s High School state champion since 2004 has been developed by Garden State Tennis Professionals. The staff counts 14 national champions, six super-national semi-finalists, two super-national finalists and one junior U.S. Open quarter-finalist among those it has developed. Many of them have gone on to play for top-ranked college teams or become professionals.

Talk about home-grown, almost every one of the current GSTC staff teaching pros are former students of John and Gill, some since they were age 12. The pros have developed more than 50 No.1 ETA-ranked juniors, three NCAA national champions and more than 500 Top 100 nationally ranked juniors. No other facility in New Jersey has turned out as many ranked youths.

“We have a history of developing these great players for 20 years,” Costanzo adds. “We have developed  14 high school state singles champions in the last 12 years.” This includes Millburn High School senior Stephanie Schrage, currently ranked 9th nationally and 1st in New Jersey on Tennis Recruiting.net.

Acosta says the secret is the quality of the programs they teach and the competition they instill in their students. They use a syllabus that builds on a USTA formula with Quick Start and Tournament training programs, customized for skill levels ranging from 0 to 6 among youths age 5-9 and juniors 9-18.

“You can take all the lessons you want and you can play 20 hours a week in all the clinics you want, but if you don’t go up against your peers and learn how to apply all of that and put everything together, then you can never get to the next level,” John says. “The kids playing team tennis, high school tennis and in USTA tournaments are improving a lot quicker. We stress competition above everything. This includes winning and losing, as both results teach valuable lessons to juniors.”

Acosta adds, “We work on preparation, program structure, shot selection, the mental part of the game – as well as when, where, why and how to place every single shot. That is our syllabus every week. When it comes to competition: --- if you win, you move up and you can beat somebody ahead of you at any time. The kids know that. We don’t attach age to the racquet. We attach level to the racquet and all aspects of the game.”

 

Quality programs; community involvement

In order to identify the next young Rafa Nadal or Serena Williams, Gill and John say they currently have 500 kids participating in junior programs and almost 100 kids in Junior Team Tennis (12 teams). GTSC reaches out to local youths of all economic levels, including nearby Rahway, Perth Amboy and Edison and encourages athletically inclined youngsters to get involved in tennis. A handful of limited scholarships or grants are also available for economically disadvantaged young players.

“Tennis is the great equalizer,” says Costanzo. “In life and in sports, it’s not about where you’re from or how much you make, but how you perform. I’ve learned a lot, and at GSTC we’re looking to integrate a group of kids who want to grow together in the sport, so we make it as accessible as basketball, soccer or football, especially here in the East.”

Costanzo, Gill and the GSTC pros regularly donate balls, nets, court time and expertise to local youth, and recently participated in the Perth Amboy Puerto Rican Association festival. Their specialties include teaching youths 10 and under. “We don’t want to miss out on any great kids. The Quick Start and 10-and-under program is amazing. We have more than 100 kids in it.”

 

Future Growth

The facility has eight indoor hard courts, men’s and women’s lockers, a kitchen, full-service pro shop and an inviting lobby. There are adult recreational and USTA Leagues and tournaments, as well as senior leagues.

Costanzo says he has plans to expand the club by adding up to four additional courts to ensure everyone interested in tennis gets an opportunity to play. Gill would like to add a few national champions: “We have some amazing kids coming up who are 8 or 9 years old, so we’ll have some great talent the next 10 years,” he says.

Showing that GSTC truly is a family business, Costanzo’s father John Sr. manages the club and runs the pro shop, stringing and selling racquets and performing other duties. Whitney manages the club’s finances, runs the web site, social media, and handles club marketing. John is owner and director, and teaches regular junior and adult programs.

The role of the Costanzo’s son Thomas is yet to be determined. However, something tells us he’ll be one of those up-and-coming juniors as soon as he can walk and carry a racquet!

 

Top GSTC Group photo names. From left: Mike Sroczynski, Chidi Gabriel, John Costanzo, John Sr., Gill Acosta, Andrew Sharnov and Whitney Costanzo of the Garden State Tennis Center.

Article and photo credits: Christopher Bacey and Ron Thomas

 

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