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Bobby Curtis: Legend and Mentor

March 27, 2007 10:52 AM

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There are few people who have devoted their lives to a cause.  Bobby Curtis, USTA Florida section coordinator of junior tennis, has dedicated 35 years to helping children attain a better life through tennis.  He has selflessly offered his time, effort, expertise and unwavering compassion to the sport of tennis, not to build a name for himself, but rather to make a positive difference in children’s lives.  On Sunday, March 25, 2007 it was evident that Bobby had done just that.

Over 250 people gathered for the 17th Annual Greater Miami Tennis and Education Foundation's (GMTEF) fundraising dinner at the Sony Ericsson Open in Key Biscayne to honor and recognize Bobby for his work as a tennis ambassador.  The evening was filled with emotion and a few tears as guest speakers Mary Jo Fernandez, Jean Desdunes and Kim Sands, just a few of the thousand inner city Miami children he has helped, explained precisely what Bobby means to them.

Kim Sands
, former WTA pro and first African-American women’s tennis coach at the University of Miami, expressively started the night with a speech called Color Me Human dedicated to Bobby.  “Six years prior to 1971 (when Moore Park first opened), my mom and I sat on the back of a bus,” she said.  “Tennis had not yet accepted Negro tennis.  Then came Bobby.”

She explained how Bobby never judged a person by the color of their skin, but rather by the contents of their character.  Kim noted that he had helped carry on the inspiration of Arthur Ashe to thousands of children by teaching them the four F’s of tennis: Fun, Fair, and the ability to look Forward to the Future and the game of tennis.

“A legend at Moore Park certainly has been made,” she said. “The park has saved thousands of lives thanks to the foundation that Bobby Curtis laid.  Bobby’s efforts gave all of us the confidence to live out our childhood dreams through class and dignity in tennis.  Bobby, we will never be able to repay you for all your efforts.”

John Desdunes, an All-American at Clemson, former men's tennis coach at Georgia Tech, and current USTA National Coach, followed Kim to the podium.  He palpably stated, “Bobby was a father to me.” 

Desdunes recalled an incident in his life when his bicycle was stolen.  Without another way to get to Moore Park, he told the immersed audience that Bobby had picked him up everyday in his Volkswagen car, with his dog Lady, so he could still play tennis and get to the courts.

“That's an example of how, because of Bobby Curtis, I continued to play, and am now affecting the future of American women's tennis. And it's all because of Bobby.”

Bobby’s invaluable traits continued to spread throughout the evening when longtime friend and past Executive Director of the GMTEF, Donna Fales affirmed “Who doesn’t know Bobby Curtis.”

“Bobby and I met over thirty years ago because we both had a passion for youngsters and a passion for tennis.  He is a mentor, co-worker and friend.”

Donna Fales was acknowledged in 2004 by the GMTEF for this same tribute.  She is a former US Wightman Cup and Federation Cup team captain, and served as tournament director for two of the world’s most important junior international competitions.  She appreciates Bobby’s altruistic attitude when making tournament draws.  His expertise is unparallel.

“If I would have let him have his way,” she said, “we would have had 3,000 people in the tournament.  Bobby hated to turn anyone away.”

The last speaker of the evening was Mary Joe Fernandez, who 30 years ago played her first match at Moore Park.  Bobby, known for wearing his emotions on his sleeve, brought Fernandez to comment immediately when she stood up to speak. 

“You better not cry,” said Fernandez while looking at Curtis, “because I'll start crying if I see you crying over there.”

Fernandez told the audience that South Florida and with Bobby Curtis is where everything started for her.  She highlighted Bobby’s honesty, unselfishness, advice, guidance and passion for tennis. 

“He is right there with Billie Jean King,” she said.  “It’s because of tennis that I have what I have.  And I thank tennis for meeting Bobby.”

Perhaps the comedic portion of the affair came when Curtis’s boss, USTA Florida executive director Doug Booth, spoke via video recording about Bobby’s affection for his other passion: women.

“Bobby really likes women, softball, Miami, Florida history, women, Florida tennis, softball and women,” he joked.  “But in all seriousness, Bobby’s impact on the growth of junior tennis in Florida is immeasurable.”

Butch Buchholz, Sony Ericsson tournament director and Charlie Pasarell, Pacific Life Open tournament director also stopped by to commend Curtis.  The audience, which included former NBA star Bob McAdoo, CBS4’s Sports Director Jim Berry, 1956 Wimbledon doubles champion Angela Buxton and ATP pro Amer Delic, was treated to a video tribute put together by USTA Florida associate executive director Andy McFarland.  The five minute video showcased pictures of Bobby throughout his whole life. 

When Bobby’s time to talk finally approached, GMTEF board member Meg Daly led the entire room in a lively cheer spelling Bobby’s name. 

“Give me a B… ‘B’…..give me an O… ‘O’…”

Bobby’s first point of business was to set the record straight.  “It's supposed to be kids, not women,” he said. “This foundation we're here to support tonight is about kids and my part of the USTA Florida is about kids, so it's not women, it's kids.”
Bobby, trying to hold back his emotions, went on to thank the attendees’ contributions to the foundation, asked the entire board to stand up, and recognized the GMTEF staff and coaches.

“You all deserve a night like this,” he said.  “All who support the foundation and support kids.  I'm just taking your place tonight.  I'm just so proud to have been involved with it.”

Bobby’s involvement with the GMTEF will continue to survive as they have named the newly constructed learning center at the Ashe-Buchholz Tennis Center in Moore Park, the GMTEF Bobby Curtis Kids Club.


The city of Miami also saluted Bobby for his visionary service through a public proclamation.  A portion read:

“Local officials, on behalf of our citizens, are pleased to pause in our deliberations to pay tribute, through this public encomium, to the outstanding leadership and unwavering commitment of Bobby Curtis, commending his generosity of spirit as auspicious of that which is truly good about Miami.”

When asked what the tribute dinner meant to Bobby, he simply responded, “It was very emotional, fulfilling, and it makes me feel like all the hard work was worth it.  I was glad to use my name to help raise money for the foundation.  The kids are what it’s about.”  

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Some information taken from Colette Lewis's USTA Florida's Bobby Curtis Toasted and Roasted at Sony Ericsson Open Dinner article at tennisrecruiting.net.  
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