Freeporter Daniel Burgess, 64, recently sat for a quiet lunch at the Imperial Diner on Merrick Road to reflect on the 46 years since he moved to New York from Rainbow City, Panama. He could have been a soccer player or even a basketball player. Instead, he chose tennis, a sport that a neighborhood volunteer, Stanley Lonely, taught him when he was 12 years old.
“My parents made me go, and when my friends were participating, I did too,” Burgess said.
He became an exceptional youth tennis player, earning an athletic scholarship to Long Island University in Brooklyn when he was 18. He practiced at the New York Health and Racquet Club, near the Staten Island Ferry, and at the Lincoln Plaza Racquet Club, near Times Square, cleaning up the courts in exchange for playing time so he could practice outside school.
Burgess, however, ran out of money to pay for school, and his scholarship wasn’t enough to cover his studies, so he left school to play on the professional circuit. Eventually, he started his own tennis coaching business, the Daniel Burgess Tennis Academy, off Mill Road in Freeport. He focused on teaching young tennis players, including his three sons, Shawn Conyers, now 37, Daniel Jr., 28, and Kevin, 26.
For his more than three decades of dedicated service to the sport of tennis, the USTA’s Eastern Tennis Conference recently honored him at its annual awards dinner in White Plains. He received the Fran Osei Community Service Award, which is named for his best friend.
“I didn’t feel I was deserving,” Burgess said.
Osei was a well-known national and international member of the USTA and Professional Tennis Registry circles. She also chaired the USTA Eastern Community Development Committee, and was a member of the National Community Development Committee. She died in 2016, at age 64.
Before starting his academy, Burgess played in the Satellite Circuit in order to qualify for major tournaments. He closed his academy eight years ago, but he still teaches tennis at the Carefree Racquet Club in North Merrick.
“I found another way to continue to keep tennis in my life in a full-time way,” Burgess said. “I’m just doing what I love; I don’t need to be given an award for what I think is reasonable service.”