The organization is listed frequently in the sports page. It sponsors weekly tournaments. And amongst tennis players and fans, it's a familiar name. But what exactly is the Mid-Atlantic Tennis Association and what is its declared purpose?

MATA, which has 12,000-plus members, is one of 17 sectional associations that make up the U.S. Tennis Association, which basically runs organized amateur tennis in this country.

MATA was founded Feb. 3, 1923, in an agreement between three Maryland country clubs -- Chevy Chase, Congressional and Columbia. The original purpose of the organization was to schedule USTA-sanctioned tournaments and rank players in accordance with USTA rules.

The original name -- the Mid-Atlantic Lawn Tennis Association -- was shortened in 1982 because grass courts had long since, for the most part, disappeared.

MATA is for players from Maryland, Virginia (excluding Bristol), the District and parts of West Virginia. It has four divisions of competition for boys and girls: the 12-, 13-, 14-, 16- and 18-and-under divisions. And it has numerous adult divisions for men and women.

Players in MATA compete for rankings. The top four ranked MATA players automatically qualify for national tournaments.

To be ranked, boys and girls must play at least five tournaments a year in singles or three tournaments in doubles, including, at least, one of the seasonal championships.

Adult men must play five singles tournaments or three doubles tournaments. Women must compete in four singles or three doubles tournaments.

Following tournaments, information on the players' matches is fed into a computer, which analyzes the data and then issues rankings.

Rankings are particularly important for young players because many use them to help gain college scholarships.

The progression from novice to MATA tournaments to national events starts at the community level. Players usually begin at the junior level and, if they show potential, a coach will recommend they begin playing in MATA tournaments.

However, a player need not be recommended by anyone to gain admission to MATA tournament fields. Paying a fee of $16 for adults (over 21) or $8 for juniors automatically qualifies an individual for competition.

MATA has recently added some programs, one being a futures circuit. This program is aimed at giving tournament experience to novice players without them having to play top-flight competition.

The hope is that this program will help unranked players by enabling them to develop competitiveness and confidence. Another new program is the junior futures, which is for unranked youths.

So MATA continues to grow. In addition to its original purpose of simply organizing tournaments, it has taken on the responsibility nurturing the games and its players in the Washington area.