In March 2008, the Hillsborough Community College (HCC) tennis complex was slated to be closed by HCC officials when its 20-year operating lease expired with the City of Tampa. Working for months on behalf of the 28-court tennis facility was the Hillsborough County Tennis Association (HCTA) and our August Volunteer of the Month
, Gary Shepherd
. Thanks in part to the association’s efforts and the people behind its operation, the HCC tennis facility is still open - hosting close to 15,000 recreational matches annually, several USTA teams and Tampa high school teams, and a number of USTA-sanctioned, high school and college tournaments each year.
In just three years since joining the USTA to play tennis tournaments, Gary has become a USTA official and organizationally involved with USTA Florida, going from zero to 100mph in no time at all. He is vice president of the HCTA and became involved with the community tennis association last year when it was first formed.
Advocacy is at the center of his heart and is what prompted him to get involved on the organization side of things more than anything else.
“As a fan of tennis and as a player, I recognized what a huge loss that would have been had it been closed,” Gary said about the HCC tennis complex. “The advocacy part is especially meaningful to me to keep HCC open and I’m really happy to have helped to make a difference.
“It has felt right to do things and give back.”
Earlier this year, the 1-year-old community tennis association welcomed 200 people to the HCC tennis complex for a USTA Tennis Block Party and 47 paid participants for a QuickStart Tennis Workshop.
“The first year was about getting organized [as a community tennis association] and now we are getting to hold events,” Gary said. “We have had two big events and both of them were great successes.”
USTA Florida has taken notice of Gary’s eagerness to grow tennis at the grassroots level. He was hired as a QuickStart Tennis Coordinator for Region 3. Gary recognizes Orlando Temple, teaching professional at the Sandra Freedman Tennis Complex, as his mentor and says the two teach QuickStart Tennis to kids 10 and under at the facility in Davis Island.
“Orlando does a great job making tennis fun and keeping it disciplined at the same time,” said Gary, who is planning a USTA Jr. Team Tennis league featuring QuickStart at HCC “I learn a lot of from him and he is a great guy.”
Add talented writer to his repertoire, (he has written for publications including Florida Trend Magazine, Tampa Downtown Partnership and medical business magazines) and one can see he is a man who wears many hats. Through his 35 years in writing he has gotten to know many public officials in the local Hillsborough community, which was helpful in forming the HCTA last year.
One of his personal, long-term goals is to build a large public Har-Tru clay court tennis facility in Hillsborough County using public land and private support.
“Whatever we can drum up,” he said. “There is a real need for a public, non-profit large clay court facility and my big goal is to build a complex [that meets this need].”
No matter how busy Gary seems to be, he always has the bigger picture in mind.
“I like to volunteer in tennis because it's a great way to pay back the sport I love and also to have a positive effect on the larger community,” he said. “I've played tennis for 40 years, and I have seen the wonderful impact tennis can have.”