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Tennis Pioneers Honored for half century of service to Central Florida

August 18, 2005 10:27 AM

By: John H. Jolinski

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Mary Louise McGregor does not consider herself a pioneer, just a person who enjoys tennis. And the term enjoy might be a bit understated. Tennis has been a passion for Mary Louise McGregor for more than 50 years. Even now at 86 she approaches the game with the same zesty fervor she did when she first picked up a racquet in the mid 1960s and discovered “love” had meaning outside of a tennis score.

But today the Winter Park resident can only watch the game that gave her life so much meaning for so many years. She is confined to a wheel chair, having had to hang up her Wilson racquet and Nikes seven years ago because of severe spinal problems.

“I have no regrets,” she said. “I had many wonderful years. Tennis provided me with a lot of fulfillment and personal satisfaction.”

Part of that fulfillment and satisfaction comes from knowing that she played a major role in laying the foundation for women’s amateur tennis in Central Florida. While she won’t admit it or take credit for it, she is indeed a pioneer in the truest sense.

Here are just a few examples why:
  • She was a founding member in the mid 1960s of the Women’s Amateur Invitational Tournament (W.A.I.T.,) a league that has flourished faster than an Andy Roddick serve, spawning several divisions for more than 5,000 women tennis players over the years.
  • She initiated the National Tennis Rating Program (NTRP), which determines a player’s skill level, in the women’s WAIT League.
  • She was one of the original members and officers of the Central Florida Tennis Confederation in the early 1980s, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the sport of tennis in Central Florida.
  • She helped launch the first USTA leagues in Central Florida.
  • She helped start “Vintage” tennis for senior men and women 55 and older so that they could compete against players in their own age groups.

Not bad for a person who admits almost proudly she “wasn’t a very good tennis player but a person who was very good at organizing things.” She is modest to a fault, refusing to take credit for the impact she’s had on the tennis community and the growth the sport has undergone through her nurture.

“If it wasn’t me someone else would have stepped forward,” she said, modestly. Maybe. Maybe not.  We’ll never know because Mary Louise McGregor was always at the forefront.

While she may be reluctant to take credit for her contributions, there are others who weren’t going to let her get off that easy. She and fellow octogenarian Barbara Cooper, who helped lay the grass roots for junior tennis in the area, were honored on August 12 by the Florida Tennis Foundation, the Greater Orlando Tennis Association and the City of Winter Park for their more than 50 years of dedicated service in promoting the sport and spirit of tennis in the area.

Nearly a hundred friends, family and tennis enthusiasts – some not even born when McGregor and Cooper began their tennis involvement – joined Winter Park Mayor Kenneth “Kip” Marchman at the Winter Park Recreation Center at Azalea Lane to pay tribute to Central Florida’s “grand dames.”  Other key representatives on hand included Florida Tennis Foundation’s Rollie Shea, USA Tennis Florida Director of Competitive Tennis Andy Gladstone and Greater Orlando Tennis Association President Jenny Jolinski.

Mayor Marchman called both women “true role models for promoting tennis in the area,” and presented them with certificates of appreciation for their contributions to the City of Winter Park.

The event was organized by long-time Winter Park tennis player and national age group champion Nancy Reed who said the tribute was “long overdue for two people who were so instrumental in getting tennis started at the grass roots level. They have done so much for the sport, and I am truly appreciative.”

The Winter Park Recreation Center was the ideal setting for such a poignant and emotional gesture – a place that has provided so many of Mary Louise’s and Barbara’s greatest memories. And today there’s one more memory to add.

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