August 6th, 2015

Broward Blog: Junior Team Tennis Volunteer of the Year Is in It for the Smiles

Kara's finalist novice 1418 team from April's regional team tennis challenge event at Crandon Park. Kara is at left in the second row, Leroy is at far right. The yellow tshirtsthe favorite color of Kara's momsported burgundy ribbons with her initials on the front; burgundy is the color for brain aneurysm. The Key Biscayne challenge was the first event Kara's mom was going to see. All nine teams dedicated the event to her.

Kara’s finalist novice 14-18
team from April’s regional Team Tennis Challenge event at Crandon Park. Kara is second row left; Leroy is far right.

The mother of the USTA Florida Tennis Team Volunteer of the Year recipient taught her daughter to stay out of the limelight, to make a difference, and “not to be in it for the glory or the kudos,” said Kara Borromeo, the daughter and the award winner.

So it’s not surprising that Kara wasn’t in attendance at the Sunshine State association’s last annual conference in Orlando to pick up her prize and take a bow. She shares the award, she said, with her husband Leroy Pettis, a tennis pro like herself, and her self-described “right hand, who I couldn’t do this without.”

Up until recently, Kara would speak to her mother — who she called her best friend — after every one of her nine junior tennis teams’ matches. Those calls ended tragically in March when her mom, a former softball coach, died suddenly of a catastrophic brain aneurism. Kara was there when it happened, and the memory and the death still haunts her.

But her commitment to children is so strong that it’s helping her overcome her grief, volunteering as she does many hours every week to manage these teams, on which 4-8 kids between the ages of seven and 18 play.

“An overwhelming percentage of kids will never make it to play pro or Division I college tennis,” she said, “and every one of them deserves the chance to compete with as little pressure as possible for as much fun as possible.”

According to Kara, “Each kid should have the chance to enjoy the camaraderie of team sports, and junior team tennis gives them that chance.”

Contests against other teams feature four singles and two doubles matches in league play in local league coordinator Cynthia Johnston’s South Miami-Dade area. Even if a player loses, say, 6-1, 6-1, he or she still earns two points for the team. So there’s not the “win or be bounced” pressure that accompanies typical tournament play. Everyone who plays can make a difference for the team.

The unbeaten 1418 intermediate team at last year's regional championship in Ft. Myers. Kara is in the front row at left, Leroy is behind her.

The unbeaten 14-18
intermediate team at last year’s regional championship in Ft. Myers. Kara is front row at left, Leroy is behind her.

To strengthen the solidarity and team spirit, Kara has each of her kids wear a uniform, so they strut onto opposing courts all looking as one, a rarity for tennis play at such young ages. Their three divisions of teams — novice, intermediate, and advanced — played in the statewide tournament in the spring at Crandon Park in Key Biscayne, where the greatest tennis players in the world play every spring, as well.

With her husband Leroy, Kara runs the Truth N Tennis Acadame program for the Village of Palmetto Bay at Coral Reef Park in Miami. That, in and of itself, would keep any husband and wife tennis pros busy with lessons and clinics. If working with adults comprises a part of their livelihood, then working with kids appears to be the largest part of their “lovelihood.”

When the 6-8 match season in the fall and winter, and then spring and summer, come around, the dynamic duo is hard at work running the teams, conducting 6-1/2 hours of weekly practices, and making dozens of phone calls to parents and the “great parents” who serve as parent captains, who are “part of the program.”

It’s a lot of hard work for no money, but “I have kids coming back from college telling us that they still remember their junior team tennis experience,” Kara said.

But she doesn’t have to wait for graduates of her team tennis program to see the impact of her long hours of volunteer work.

“When I see the smiles on the faces of our kids these days, I know we’re really making a difference in their lives.”

And her mother in Heaven agrees.