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Junior Advocate Bill Ozaki Announces Retirement

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April 9, 2019 01:29 PM

By Ron Cioffi/USTA Southern

One of the pillars of Southern tennis is announcing his retirement from USTA Southern.

USTA Southern Director of Player Development & Programs Bill Ozaki, who has guided Southern junior tournament play and player development for nearly 30 years, will end his run and retire on June 30.

John Callen, USTA Southern Executive Director & COO, said “Bill has been the perfect employee and friend. He handles challenging situations with such an ability to stay calm, smile and make situations the best they can be.  He has helped thousands and thousands of Southern junior players, their parents and coaches over the decades, and he will be greatly missed by all. Bill always knew how to have fun and find those off-the-beaten-path restaurants across the South.” 

Southern Tennis Hall of Fame member Mary Hatfield had a concise description of Ozaki: “Bill is Mr. Junior Tennis.”

Known for his warm and outgoing personality, in addition to his leadership skills, Ozaki, of Flowery Branch, GA, has been instrumental in nearly doubling junior tournament participation since 1991.

“When I started, we had about 20,000 tournament players. Now we have about 38,000,” he said.

Ozaki, 66, started as a junior player in southeast Georgia and won the 1971 Class A High School singles championship. After a work accident curtailed his college career at Georgia State University-Perimeter College, he taught tennis for about 12 years, including eight years as head pro at Hidden Hills Country Club in Stone Mountain, GA. It was there he got to know USTA Southern Executive Director and COO John Callen, who hired him as a USTA Southern staffer in 1989.

Moved to Head Junior Tennis
After two years coordinating USTA Adult League development in the South, Ozaki moved over to the junior side. And, other than two years during which he worked in the USTA Player Development Department, Ozaki has spent his career piloting Southern’s growing and successful junior tournaments with skill and devotion.

During those three decades, Ozaki watched as a string of highly successful pros – from Chanda Rubin to Brian Vahaly to Melanie Oudin to Robby Ginepri – all emerged from the USTA junior circuit. Grace Min, a native Georgian pro, especially benefitted from Ozaki’s guidance.

In addition to heading up a three-person junior department, Ozaki also supervised the section’s program staff and 11 tennis service representatives. He also served as Georgia Professional Tennis Association President.

USTA Southern President and CEO Bonnie Vandegrift said, “Bill Ozaki has been a staple to Southern tennis for 30 years and he will be sorely missed. Bill is so well respected for his knowledge of and commitment to junior tennis across the country by players, staff, parents and volunteers alike. Year after year we hear stories from our junior players about the positive impact he has had on their lives.”

Ozaki worked for more than 10 years with two well-respected and now retired veterans: former Manager of Junior Competition Sandy Hastings and Hatfield, who was Manager of Junior Team Tennis & TennisLink.

According to Hatfield, Ozaki was “a junior players’ advocate, with attention to inclusion, quality development and teaching of life skills. As a colleague, he was professional, thoughtful, fair and FUN. If you want to know where to eat, ask Bill.” 

Hastings added to the compliments: "Southern junior tennis will never be the same. Bill changed the landscape of junior tennis in the South. He is so respected throughout the country with junior tennis administrators. … One of my major lifetime highlights was the honor to work alongside Bill for 15 years"

Southern Foodie
Ozaki’s knowledge – and patronage – of restaurants is legendary, honed from years of visiting Southern eateries as he traveled from junior tournament to tournament. For many years when budgets were tight, he stayed with USTA Southern volunteers, many of whom accompanied him on late-night dashes for donuts or barbequed ribs.

Ozaki said, “I can honestly say two things about working at USTA Southern: It’s the best job I’ve ever had and the day hasn’t occurred when I dreaded going to work. The leadership and friendship from John Callen, working alongside so many outstanding fellow staff persons at Southern and the states, and the support and time given from the hundreds of volunteers at every level, are the reasons I can say those two things.”

While Ozaki’s judgement about junior play is renowned, his ability to connect with kids, parents and tennis directors has set him apart. His self-deprecating humor made him accessible to tennis fans of all ages. His office is typically stuffed with tennis racquets earmarked for junior players in need of extra equipment. The racquets are next to a shelf holding an assortment of hats he wears pretty much 24/7. That collection, in fact, caps off what might be Ozaki’s biggest contribution to junior tennis: Decades of true devotion.

One of those hats, for example, supported Sean Karl, who was No. 1 in the country in Boys’ 16s before heading to the University of Tennessee to play tennis. After a two-year battle with cancer, however, the college sophomore passed away. Throughout Karl’s struggle and beyond, Ozaki wore a hat supporting him. That kind of heartfelt connection with young tennis players is why Ozaki made a real difference in Southern tennis.

 

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