The courts are dark. Outside by the pool, a few well-boozed attendees flop out onto deck chairs to await the morning’s sunrise. After a final day at the El Conquistador Hotel, people pack their sweat-soaked skivvies into plastic bags and prepare for the morning taxi ride to the airport. Today, PJ Simmons and his remarkable staff hosted the Tennis Congress’ final moments. With each player going through two more coaching sessions followed by a private session with their dedicated-for-the-weekend coach, players took to the courts for another 4.5 hours of activity. This followed another four hours of conference room lectures and the type of immersive experience one finds in foreign language schools.
After a few photos with their mentors, attendees limped back to their rooms for a quick shower before limping out to the pool for a buffet dinner, some joyful yet tearful words from Simmons, and more applause for his efforts than in many of the recent Presidential Campaign stops. Before dinner though, the coaches and a few athletes met for a cocktail briefing. With the faculty encircling him, Simmons broke down with gratitude and humility. His weeping turned on a fountain of faculty tears as they recounted stories of their experience in the Congress, their passion for the event, and the honor it was to work for such a cause. Irishman Joseph O’Dwyer laid himself upon the floor during an impassioned speech about what it means to be a coach, and specifically, one who attends the Congress. After extended applause for O’Dwyer’s effort, event planner Klinton Kraft also broke down, commenting that after producing hundreds of corporate events around the nation, this was the finest and most rewarding conference he has ever experienced.
The thing about Tennis Congress is its innocence. There are no egos here, with coaches and fitness personnel giving their very best effort to the Congress and sharing information with each other in an effort to improve the attendees’ experience. No one inside the tennis world could have created this event. It took a passionate man’s dream to launch the idea and to bring it to fruition one phone call at a time. Simmons has personally spoken to every single faculty member – over 75 at this point – and offered a personal invitation to each individual. His vision has led to an individualized curriculum for every student, a mobile app that updates every participant minute by minute about where to be, what events are taking place, and ratings for seminars and coaches so he knows who is keeping up to the US Tennis Congress’ standard. In the first year, he stood upon a small stage with two plants. Today, with five massive theater screens, tennis court in a ballroom with video cameras, outdoor drone cameras, AV equipment for 5 ballrooms, and a cadre of followers who just keep shouting “MORE!” the Congress has hit a new strata.
I have no idea what is going to happen with this event. Perhaps it reaches toward the Vegas hotels or makes its way around the globe in foreign venues. Perhaps it stays intimate and sells out in eight minutes like it did this year. Maybe there will be offshoots taking place at local clubs around the United States. For now though, there’s still a group of participants in the lobby shooting sentimental photos with new friends. I think I’m going to photo bomb one. I kind of want proof that I was here. It may give me bragging rights some time in the future.
Good night, PJ Simmons. Thank you for all of your efforts. Sleep well. You’ve earned it.