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Charlie Garfinkel: Pair turn Chestnut Ridge vision into success

About four months ago Gordon Panek and Tim Sands, both avid and talented local tennis players, started thinking about hosting a tournament at Chestnut Ridge Park in Orchard Park. Although they had some skepticism as to whether or not the tournament would be a success, they decided to make their idea a reality.

The tournament, which was held from Aug. 27-30, was a resounding success. The field numbered 157 players in singles and doubles.

Panek said, “In the early 1970s tennis was booming. You had stars such as Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe, who had outstanding expertise and personality.”

Panek noted that there were originally only eight courts at Chestnut Ridge. Players were frustrated because the game was so popular that they often had to wait almost two hours to even get a chance to play.

The county was aware of the game’s popularity and added four more courts in another part of Chestnut Ridge. In the beginning the nets were fenced netting, which really wasn’t popular with the players.

In the mid-1980s regular nets were installed. The courts all had lighting, making them extremely popular. Unfortunately, due to expenses and other reasons, there haven’t been any lights for the past few years.

“Going back 10-20 years ago there were always a group of at least 10-20 players who would always show up to play,” Panek said. “Even if you didn’t know anyone all you had to do was show up and you would have someone to play with.”

Two years ago the eight-court complex was completely upgraded. The courts were resurfaced, wind screens were put up, and brand new nets replaced the old ones. Court benches were also added. A year later the other four courts were upgraded. The result: The courts are as good, if not better, than at any other public facility in Western New York.

In May, Panek and Sands got together to make their plan a reality.

“We had been thinking about proceeding and getting the tournament started for almost a year,” Sands said. “Gordon and I decided to approach the county to discuss hosting the tournament.”

Panek knew Troy Chinzel, the county parks commissioner, well. He and Sands had many meetings with Chinzel to decide how they would go about holding the tournament.

“When Chinzel gave us permission to proceed with our plans, we were overjoyed,” Sands said.

Panek and Sands then met with John Bailey, who was the president of the Chestnut Ridge Conservatory. He gave his approval to run the tournament and stressed to both that they must have a liability contract in case anybody got hurt. Once Panek and Sands attained the insurance they were on their way to hosting the tournament.

Panek and Sands did a great deal of research to decide when would be the best time of the year to host the tournament. The obvious time was during the summer, when students were out of school and the courts were always being used. Many of those players supported the tournament.

“We set the dates of Aug. 27-30 after carefully checking the tennis calendar to make sure that there were no conflicts with other tournaments,” Panek said.

“From there, we pursued advertising, sent out applications to Chestnut Ridge and Como Park, among other venues,” Sands said. “Both Gordon and I had played many tournaments at the Village Glen and Miller Tennis Center, where they greatly promote their tournaments. Word traveled throughout the Western New York area and we had players from all over Western New York enter the tournament.”

One of their main objectives was to make the tournament affordable to players of all levels. They succeeded in that respect. The entry fee was only $20 for singles and $10 each for doubles teams. Most players were very pleased about the seedings (placing the better players at various spots in the draw in order so they wouldn’t meet another top player until later in the tournament). In addition, they had hot dogs, potato chips, soda and bottled water included in the entry fee.

What really made the tournament a resounding success was that every singles player or doubles team was assured of at least two matches. In most tournaments if you lose your first match you are out. Panek and Sands had a back draw in each event, which means that losers in each division are put into a loser’s bracket. They play against other players who also did not win a first-round match. If they continued to win in the loser’s bracket they might play as many as three or four matches.

Panek noted that County Executive Mark Poloncarz was at the event and was impressed with all aspects of the tournament. Jennifer Dillon, who has played at Chestnut Ridge for many years, said, “The tourney was well run and organized. Gordon and Tim did a phenomenal job.”

Panek said, “I feel that the that the tournament was such a rousing success for the following reasons: Players had a chance to play against other players that they don’t normally play against. Players were guaranteed to play at least two matches regardless of how they did in their first match in each division.

“Providing amenities that were included in the entry fee proved to be extremely popular. The tournament ran smoothly and on time.

“Finally, Tim and I were extremely pleased with the camaraderie and sportsmanship that all players exhibited. We are already looking forward to next year’s tournament.”