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USTA Florida Announces Tennis Volunteer 2009 Award Winners

December 7, 2009 06:00 PM
USTA Florida celebrated "60 Years of Love and 30 Years of Dedication" on Dec. 4-6, 2009, during the USTA Florida 60th Annual Meeting and Anniversary Celebration Weekend at the Hilton Clearwater Beach Resort, recognizing the 30 years of service by retiring junior tennis icon Bobby Curtis.

"As you may know, Florida was once part of the United States Lawn Tennis Association's Southern Section -- that is until our four founding fathers -- Eddie Herr, Gardnar Mulloy, Clarence Varner and Ed Turville -- got their way," said USTA Florida President Donn Davis, reflecting on the history of the USTA Florida section. "After some maneuvering in 1949, Florida broke away from the Southern Lawn Tennis Association, as it was then known, and Florida became its own section -- the Florida Lawn Tennis Association, predecessor to what is now known as USTA Florida."

Approximately 400 USTA Florida volunteers and guests attended the weekend celebration, where Executive Committee, USTA Florida Board of Directors and various committee and league organizational meetings were held on Friday, while Saturday and Sunday was blocked for a celebration of 60 years of USTA Florida and honoring Bobby Curtis.

"We celebrated 60 Years of Love by inviting our past presidents, Hall of Fame members and Merit Award winners of past totaling 44 volunteers and included [USTA Florida Executive Director] Doug Booth and Bobby Curtis, both past Merit and Hall of Famers," said USTA Florida's Lynne Salus. "We had VIPS come in from Michigan, Alabama and North Carolina, as well as national USTA Executive Director Gordon Smith and national USTA Board member Tommy Ho."

"The celebration culminated with Sunday morning's 'Breakfast With The Stars,' when we presented our six highest honors, concluded by the induction of 101-year-old Jim Vuille into the USTA Florida Hall of Fame," Davis added. "We recognized the 30 Merit Award winners in attendance, the oldest being Bobby Curtis himself, back in 1980. We had 11 Hall of Fame members and eight past presidents in attendance. We then turned our attention to honoring the star of the weekend, Bobby Curtis, retiring after 30 years of dedicated service to junior tennis in Florida. The event was moderated by Dave Kozlowski, "The Koz," who took Bobby down memory lane as six of his closest tennis friends remembered milestones of Bobby's 30 year career. We viewed a dedication video that brought tears to our eyes. All in all, it was an incredible weekend of business mixed with memories as we recognized the growth of tennis in Florida over the past 60 years and the many individuals who made it possible."

More videos from the event will become available via the USTA Florida website in days to come.

The following is the list of individuals and organizations receiving year-end awards for 2009:

Member Organization of the Year
Seminole County Leisure Services

"It Starts in the Parks!"

Seminole County Leisure Services currently operates three large tennis facilities -- Sanlando Park (25 lighted hard courts), Red Bug Lake Park (16 lighted hard courts), and Sylvan Lake Park (9 lighted hard courts) -- plus two neighborhood parks with four additional courts. Seminole County provides and promotes all tennis programs, leagues, tournaments, and special events in accordance with USTA Florida standards of excellence.

The organization's involvement with USTA Florida began in 1976 with the opening of Red Bug Lake Park and has continued to grow each year with new facilities and additional courts. Seminole County Leisure Services, which serves as a hub for USTA Florida volunteer and membership recruitment, has been a leader in the tennis community dating back to the early 1980s. The county's impressive participation figures help explain the selection as USTA Florida's Member Organization of the Year.  

Committee Volunteer of the Year
Phil Girardi of St. Petersburg

"Keep the Faith"

Phil Girardi, who says he feels blessed to work in a profession he truly loves, has been a devoted USTA Florida volunteer for a number of years. From his days serving as a District 12 director to his role as chair of the Recreational Tennis Council, Phil has showcased a true passion to bring about positive results in everything he does. Although he only began teaching tennis in 1994, his natural gifts and winning personality helped him snare the coveted position of director of tennis for the City of Treasure Island, which includes running all community-based programming at Treasure Bay Golf and Tennis.

"I believe my biggest accomplishment has been to introduce a life sport to hundreds of juniors and adults over the years and hopefully having  a positive influence on some of their lives," explained Girardi, who also serves as a national USTA Jr. Team Tennis Committee member. 
Tennis Family of the Year
Ross Dubins Family of North Miami

"Courting Family Camaraderie"

If the old adage that "the family that plays together stays together" is true, then there could be no better representative than the Ross Dubins Family. Ross and Veronica, who have been operating the City of North Miami's Sans Souci Tennis Center since 1989, have crafted a thriving tennis haven that features numerous men's and women's tennis leagues as well as various other community-based events for players of all ages.

They currently oversee four junior USTA-sanctioned events annually and showcase their humanitarian side by providing free instruction, discounted classes, and scholarships for those in need. Ross, who won the USPTA District Professional of the Year Award in 2007, and Veronica have passed their love of tennis on to their two daughters, Taylor and Brittany, who are gifted individuals both on the court and in the classroom.

Merit Award (Female)
Cindy Harkins of Longwood

"I Hope You Dance"

Over the past 35 years, Cindy Harkins has been a great friend to USTA Florida and the tennis community in Seminole County. Prior to 1976, Seminole County did not contain one public tennis court. Today, there are 54 public courts. Harkins established Red Bug Park in 1976 and had the privilege of actively serving on the committee to select, plan, and develop Sanlando Park, which opened in 1978. To ensure the parks' success, Harkins served as park supervisor for Sanlando and director of tennis for both Sanlando and Red Bug through 1988.

Today she's just as busy, which was evidenced this past summer when she introduced QuickStart Jr. Team Tennis to Red Bug Lake Park. She currently is working to expand the program countywide at Sanlando, Sylvan Lake, and Red Bug. As a USTA Florida volunteer, Cindy has been equally proactive, especially in terms of the development of tournament criteria and standards of excellence for the different junior tournaments. 
Merit Award (Male)
Arthur Russo of Sun City Center

"Best Non-Paying Job I Ever Had!"

According to Arthur Russo, who received the USTA Senior Service Award in 2002, his most notable contribution to USTA Florida began in 1998 when Joe Rasgado, a former USTA Florida president, asked Russo to become chair of the Super Seniors Grand Prix (SSGP), which allows players 55 and over from around the world to compete while enjoying the beautiful Florida weather. He also convinced the USTA to assign the SSGP two category II national tournaments, which have been incredibly successful, especially the event in Naples, which consistently draws over 500 entries in both singles and doubles.

Russo, who still plays tennis four days a week, also served USTA Florida as a District 10 tournament evaluator and as a member and chair of the Adult Competitive Council. Currently, he is assisting USTA Florida's Lynne Salus by chairing the section's Awards Committee, which is a position he accepted in 2007.

Hall of Fame Inductee
Jim Vuille of Sun City Center

"A Century of Tennis Dedication"

How do you encapsulate over 80 years of tennis achievement in just a few short sentences? If the truth be told, it's an almost impossible task when you are talking about Jim Vuille, who is a true tennis icon. During an amateur playing career that began in 1919 and ended in 2003 at the age of 94 due to an arthritic knee, Vuille has won many titles and earned top rankings in age divisions stretching from his junior days to his last competitive event in a Florida 90s tournament in 2002 when he was ranked No. 2 in his age division.

A legend in the St. Petersburg area, Vuille, who recently celebrated his 100th birthday, helped establish Bartlett Park, now known as the St. Petersburg Tennis Center, and claimed the city championship numerous times. Over the years, his commitment to the St. Petersburg Tennis Center never wavered, which is evidenced by his support of the club that included stints serving as president, interim pro, maintenance helper, and manager from 1974 to 1984.

Official of the Year
Terry Logan of St. Petersburg

"Gone too Soon"

Terry Logan, who passed away at the age of 65 on May 3, 2009, was a well-liked and respected official who began her officiating career in 1991. She was extremely active in the Bay Area Tennis Officials Association, serving as secretary from 1993 until her untimely death. Terry, who also received the USTA Florida Official of the Year Award in 1999, was a dedicated volunteer who served as the section's Grievance Committee chair in 2000-01 and as secretary of the Officials Committee from 2004-09.

In addition to serving as Region 3 director of officials for the past five years, Terry worked as an official at the US Open in Flushing Meadows from 1997-2001 and was awarded her White Badge Chief Umpire designation in 2001, which allowed her to serve as a referee for hundreds of local and interstate tennis tournaments. This beloved tennis official will indeed be missed -- and fondly remembered.

Media Excellence Award
Laura Toth of Vero Beach

"Media Maven"

Laura Toth is definitely a woman of many talents. In addition to serving as an outstanding USTA Florida League Tennis Coordinator in Vero Beach, Laura is a multifaceted media maven who is just as adept at writing articles, designing websites, and snapping eye-catching photos. In addition to serving as the Region 6 contributor to Tennis Life magazine, Laura established a monthly newsletter entitled Crosscourt News in November 2008 to foster communication between the local league coordinator and players, captains, pros, and tennis directors.

The newsletter, which is distributed to over 550 recipients via email each month, includes all league deadlines, photos of winning teams at regionals/sectionals, and updates on rule changes. She also established an innovative website -- www.treasurecoastleaguetennis.com -- to help recruit new USTA league players, and is planning to enhance the site to foster additional communication within the area. 
USTA Area League Tennis Coordinator of the Year
Laura Toth of Vero Beach

"Do What You Love, Love What You Do"

Based on the following participation statistics, it's certainly obvious why Laura Toth was selected as this year's USTA Florida Area League Tennis Coordinator of the Year. Laura has done an incredible job of enticing Treasure Coast players into the various leagues. Over the past year, participation in the adult league increased 61 percent as approximately 200 players became new USTA members.

During the summer of 2009, when the population typically decreases in the area, the mixed doubles league set even higher participation numbers. Incredibly, player participation was up a whopping 135 percent, while the number of teams competing increased 166 percent. The mixed 7.0 league featured a record eight teams in 2009, resulting in the first flight playoff in a local league. Laura's list of achievements also includes increasing senior league player participation by 79 percent over the past year. 
Al Mills Memorial Adult Tournament of the Year
USTA Florida State NTRP Championships
Accepting the Award -- Jeff Cohen

"We Are the Champions"

In 2006, when Jeff Cohen returned to Central Florida to accept the position of director of tennis at Heathrow Country Club, one of his primary objectives was to host a large, fun-filled event that tournament players and the club's membership could enjoy. After conferring with representatives from USTA Florida, Jeff coordinated the first-ever USTA Florida NTRP State Championships in the spring of 2007, which featured 118 participants. As positive word-of-mouth about the tournament spread, participation totals soared to over 200 over the next two years.

"Thanks to a lot of help from USTA Florida, our membership and staff are proud to host this first-class event," he explained. "On-time scheduling, player party, guest speakers, cookouts, players' gifts, updated scores, special hotel accommodations, and an outstanding facility to play, watch, and enjoy the tournament -- these are the things that truly make our event second to none."
Wheelchair Player of the Year
Johnny Johnston of Gainesville

"The Man, the Myth, the Legend"

Over the past 25 years, Johnny Johnston has been involved in a range of USTA adult and junior programs both as a player and coach. As a wheelchair player, Johnny has been a prodigious singles and doubles champion who has won multiple championships as the No. 1-ranked wheelchair player in Florida, and is a seven-time winner of the US Open Wheelchair Championships. In 2003, he became the first wheelchair player to compete against able-bodied players at the USTA National Championships in California and is the first wheelchair coach to lead a team to the USTA Jr. Team Tennis National Championships.

Not only was he the first wheelchair athlete to compete at the national level against able-bodied players, he actually won all his doubles matches. How altruistic is Johnny? Consider this: When he coached the junior varsity boys' team last year, he donated his salary back to the program for needed equipment.

Female Player of the Year
Vesna McKenna of Hollywood

"Tradition and History"

The past two years have been incredibly fruitful ones for Vesna McKenna, who is currently ranked No. 3 in the USTA National Women's 40 singles division, and finished 2008 as the top-ranked women in the USTA Florida Women's 40s. In 2009, Vesna captured the USTA National 40 Women's Clay Court Championships title, reached the final at the USTA National Women's 40 Grass Court Championships, earned the ITF World Champion Bronze Medal, and participated on the Avory Cup U.S. team that traveled to London to compete against the squad from Great Britain.

In 2008, Vesna, who has been a USPTA teaching pro for almost 20 years, was thrilled to win her first-ever national title, which occurred when she captured the singles crown at the USTA National Women's 40 Grass Court Championships. "I am very grateful that I am able to balance a career as a firefighter while rejoining competitive tennis," McKenna said.
Male Player of the Year
Rudy Hernando of Fort Lauderdale

"Back Home Again"

Winning tournaments and maintaining a high ranking are two things Rudy Hernando has become quite accustomed to doing throughout his playing career. Currently ranked No. 3 in both singles and doubles in the USTA National Men's 70 divisions, Rudy had a spectacular year in 2009, winning the USTA Super Grand Prix Category II at Academia Sanchez-Casal and the Morristown Super Senior singles events. He also reached the finals at the USTA National Men's 70 Hard Court Championships and the USTA National Men's 70 Indoor Championships.

How far back does Rudy's on-court greatness extend? During his professional career, he played in the U.S Nationals (now known as the US Open) 10 times and competed at Wimbledon once, compiling wins over Tom Okker, Tony Palafox, and Marty Mulligan. After his professional tennis career ended in 1973, he played little competitive tennis until becoming active in the senior aspect of the game, where he has since won 10 gold balls.

Bobby Curtis Junior Tournament of the Year
Harry Gilbert's Super Series
Accepting the Award -- Harry Gilbert

"The Host with the Most"

During his multi-decade volunteer career, Harry Gilbert has run over 250 USTA tournaments and served on a variety of USTA committees at both the sectional and national level. Clearly all that experience has paid dividends, which is reflected in the Harry Gilbert Super Series event being named Junior Tournament of the Year. The tournament, which has been directed by Gilbert for 20 years and was one of the original sectional Super Series events, has grown in size and stature since moving to the Florida Tennis Center.

Under Harry's able stewardship, a large number of players representing as many as eight different sections -- as well as some international competitors -- flock to the tournament to enjoy the competition, the numerous amenities, and the collegial social atmosphere. Whether receiving free T-shirts, complimentary lunches or various gifts from sponsors, the competitors know they will be treated with the utmost care and respect by tournament staff. 
Junior Competitive Coach of the Year
Brian Gottfried of Ponte Vedra Beach

"Player and Coach Extraordinaire"

Making the transition from an outstanding professional tennis player to an exceptional junior tennis coach can be a tricky proposition, but it's a conversion Brian Gottfried has handled seamlessly. Brian, who was named to the USTA Florida Hall of Fame in 1985 and reached an ATP Tour career-high ranking of No. 3 in 1977, is now passing along his expertise to promising junior players.

Over the past three years he has worked for various academies and federations on a part-time basis as a coaching consultant, working with the Harold Solomon Tennis Institute, USTA high-performance training camps, and the David Lloyd Tennis Academy through an agreement with the Lawn Tennis Association.

Currently Brian is working with junior player Josie Kuhlman, who in two years has progressed from the Grand Prix level in the Jacksonville area to No. 1 in the state rankings and No. 9 nationally.

Albert Carrington Balink Award
Gonzales Austin of Miami

"Be the Best You Can Be"

"Being the best he can be" was certainly a goal Gonzales Austin accomplished in 2009 based on his superlative on-court successes that catapulted him to a No. 1 sectional and No. 4 national ranking in the Boys' 16 division. Throughout the year, his outstanding play netted him a number of prestigious titles, including the USTA Boys' 16 National Championships, the USTA Florida Boys' 18 State Closed Singles Sectional, The USTA National Open Boys' 18s, and the Hallandale Fall Designated Boys' 18s.

Gonzales, who was a member of the high school tennis team at Ransom Everglades, played a pivotal role in guiding the team to a state championship title in 2008 and was presented with the school's MVP award in both the 2008 and 2009 high school tennis seasons. It's clear that after learning to play tennis at the age of three by hitting tennis balls against the wall, Gonzales has progressed to a truly elite level of tennis proficiency.

CTA Volunteer of the Year
Anne Koterba of Newberry

"Lean on Me"

After five years of working diligently to promote construction of a 14 claycourt public facility at Jonesville Park, Anne Koterba witnessed her dream become a reality when the Jonesville Tennis Center officially opened in April 2009. In her role as chair of the Recreation and Open Space Committee for Alachua County and as a member of the tennis community, Anne collaborated with tennis advocates and county government officials to promote this very successful public/private partnership. She also received funding from the Gainesville Area Community Tennis Association for two pilot projects -- a junior competitive mentoring program and an afterschool tennis program in local elementary schools.

Her efforts have also resulted in most male high school tennis team players in Gainesville are now participating in USTA Jr. Team Tennis. "I want to help to create the most active and vibrant tennis community possible," Koterba says.

Outstanding Diversity Achievement Award
Adam Leavitt of Longwood

"Victory Happens When 10,000 Hours of Training Meet One Moment of Opportunity"

When someone goes out of their way to help others in a truly selfless way, the reward is usually the innate sense of satisfaction that individual experiences from doing the altruistic deed. Such is the case with Adam Leavitt, a remarkable teenager who created an organization in 2003 called Gently Used Tennis Stuff (GUTS) that collects, stores, markets, and delivers slightly used tennis items that are distributed statewide through USTA Florida and locally to the Boys and Girls Club of Eatonville Denton Johnson Tennis Center.

This labor of love provides needy adults, teens, and young children the opportunity to obtain tennis attire and supplies for participation in group tennis lessons and tournaments. Leavitt also coaches local youth who benefit from his gently-used tennis outfits in league and tournament play.
NJTL Chapter Leader of the Year
Elizabeth Bewley of Royal Palm Beach

"Pardon Me, Haven't We Met?"

Since becoming involved with the USTA Florida NJTL program in 2004, Elizabeth has been a dedicated volunteer at various tennis events throughout Palm Beach County and a results-oriented NJTL chapter leader. In June 2009, she ran the NJTL kid's tennis program at South Olive Park, which focused on tennis skills during the morning and academic skills in the afternoon. Bewley also coordinated a successful high-performance program at Lake Lytal where the students learned to raise the level of their games while utilizing good sportsmanship techniques such as encouraging each other to succeed.

During the summer, she also arranged match play each week against a visiting French contingent that was practicing at the Golf and Racquet Country Club at Eastpointe in Palm Beach Gardens, which proved to be so successful that the students returned again in the fall. For these and so many other notable reasons, Elizabeth is a deserving winner of the 2009 NJTL Chapter Leader of the Year Award.

USTA School Tennis Volunteer of the Year
Mary Lane of Sanford

"Put Your Best Foot Forward (But Do Not Foot Fault)

As a native Floridian, Mary Lane grew up playing junior tennis under the direction of Dave Beerman in Lakeland. In fact, her love of the game was so strong that during her summers off from college, she would return to the Lakeland City Courts to teach tennis. As a physical education teacher, she always implemented the Tennis in the Schools program and tried to instill in her students a true love for the game, while in her role as a district supervisor, she has attended and offered numerous tennis workshops to fellow PE teachers. Lane was also inducted into the University of Florida College of Health and Human Performance Distinguished Alumni Hall of Fame in 2007.

"It has been so rewarding to turn physical education teachers on to the game when they previously thought they could not teach it," said Lane, who helped establish a link between USTA Florida and the Florida Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (FAHPERD).

Tennis on Campus Coordinator of the Year
Luis Duco of Orlando

"Nothing is as Real as a Dream"

Following a dream is a precept Luis Duco truly believes in. It's also a philosophy he imparts to the Club Tennis Team at the University of Central Florida. In 2008-09, Luis tripled the team's membership from approximately 20 to over 60 members, representing the second-largest membership improvement for all clubs and organizations at UCF. He also lead the Club Tennis Team to the National Tennis On Campus Championship, where his squad defeated the No. 2 team in the nation, UC Berkley, and came within one point of advancing to the finals before losing to the University of Wisconsin.

In the third-place playoff contest, the UCF team beat the five-time national championship squad from Texas A&M. In addition, the team spirit Duco's team showcased at the National Tennis On Campus Championship earned it the 2009 Sportsman Award, which was voted on by fellow event competitors.

USTA Jr. Team Tennis League Coordinator of the Year
Cyndi Johnston of Miami

"Building Strong Kids, Strong Families, and Strong Communities"

When Cyndi Johnston started the USTA Jr. Extreme QuickStart Team Tennis program in the summer of 2005 in Miami-Dade County, it consisted of three sites with 60 children. Today, the program has expanded to 20 sites and averages 250 participants. When she initiated the program in her area, she wisely partnered with the YMCA and implemented its motto, which is to help build strong kids, strong families, and strong communities.

According to Johnston, her success is due to encouraging all family members to play an active role during the season from coaching, being a role model as a captain, spectator, community sponsor -- or even as cheerleader on the sidelines. Since her first season serving as an area league commissioner in the summer of 2005, her teams have earned numerous sectional and regional trophies.






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