Westport tennis courts are tribute to 9/11 victim

By Lauren Daley South Coast Today

 Members of the Board of Directors of the Dianne B. Snyder Tennis Complex Contributed photo

Members of the Board of Directors of the Dianne B. Snyder Tennis Complex Contributed photo

WESTPORT — In tennis, “love” usually means zero. In Westport, it means four.

In this case, a trio of women came together to remember a special person in a special way. Pam Manchester, LouAnn Nygaard and Lisa MacMaster comprise the Board of Directors of the Dianne B. Snyder Tennis Complex, along with Dianne’s husband John Snyder.

Dianne Snyder was a flight attendant on American Airlines Flight 11, the first plane to be flown into the World Trade Center on 9/11. She died at the age of 42, leaving behind John and their two children, Leland and Blakeslee.The Tennis Complex that is a tribute to her memory is testimony to the efforts of those she left behind — and why Manchester, Nygaard and MacMaster are The Standard-Times 2013 Westport Women of Year. Nominations for the award came from the community and members of the newspaper staff. Recipients were selected by a newsroom committee.

But the women said the honor would not be complete without the inclusion of Snyder.

“It’s one for all, all for one,” said Nygaard.

An avid tennis player, Dianne Snyder played mostly on the courts at the Westport Middle School on Old County Road, Snyder said.

In 2002, Nygaard, the Westport Athletic Boosters Club President, had the idea to honor Dianne — whom she did not know personally — by naming those courts after her.

“Our courts were horrendous,” cracked with grass growing throughout, said Nygaard. “I knew about Dianne’s love for tennis. I thought it would be great to have the courts redone and named after her — and also it would benefit the schools and community.”

She approached MacMaster, then the Westport High School girls tennis coach, with the idea.

“It was a win-win-win: better facilities for the kids, better facilities for community, and we would honor someone who loved the sport,” said MacMaster, who also did not know Dianne personally.

The women approached Snyder with the idea. He and Manchester, Dianne’s best friend, were immediately on board.

The plan was instantly approved by school officials, and in their first year, they raised $131,000 through fundraisers and donations, said Nygaard.

The courts were completely overhauled with new fencing, and eventually a lighting system for night matches and a memory garden in Dianne’s name were added.

The board also aims to spread Dianne’s love for the game by hosting children’s summer tennis clinics, adult clinics, a kids’ summer tennis league, and an intramural tennis league for Westport Middle school kids in the fall.

“What’s cool about these programs is that prior to us offering tennis clinics for kids, there was no feeder system for the high school varsity tennis team,” said MacMaster, who has since stepped down as coach. “By introducing the sport to kids at young age, by the time kids are in high school, they have an interest and background. The tennis teams in Westport have really excelled in recent years. They’ve been a formidable force recently. That’s makes us all feel good.”

The board hosts an annual fundraiser, the Dianne B. Snyder Tennis Tournament, at the Acoaxet Club at Westport Harbor each September. Next fall will be the 11th annual.

They’ve also hosted many other fundraisers, including “The Westport Voice” and “Westport Dancing with the Stars.”

Manchester said Dianne was teaching her the game just before 9/11.

“We’d play on those courts, with the grass coming up through the cracks. Dianne literally taught me how to hit the ball,” she said.

The Snyders moved to Westport from Connecticut around 1999. John Snyder is a shipwright for Mystic Seaport, who now divides his time between Connecticut and Westport.

Manchester and Snyder “hit it off from the get-go,” said Manchester.

Manchester, who had just returned from New York City, got a call from her mother the morning of 9/11. “She heard that something awful had happened. I turned on the TV.

Katie Couric said it was American Airlines out of Boston, and I knew Dianne was flying out of Boston, so I drove to (the Snyder’s) house,” she recalled. “Around 2 p.m. or 3 p.m., John got a phone call from American Airlines. It was brutal.”

Snyder said, “When Dianne died, we’d only lived in Westport a year or so, and the town was so good to us, I was looking for a way to thank them. The tennis courts were perfect.”

Added Snyder, “It leaves a legacy for her. I really enjoy just driving by there in the summer and seeing all the courts full …. It makes me feel good that her name is on something everybody enjoys.”

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