August 31st, 2017

Longwood’s Harkins, Architect of Orlando Tennis, Named Florida Volunteer of the Month

Volunteer Of The Month General News

Just when you think you’ve gotten out, it reels you back in.

But Cindy Harkins does not mind when it comes to tennis volunteering. Her “retirement” years seem fuller than when she worked full-time in the tennis and public parks industries.

After two years ago retiring from a 40-year career serving Seminole County Parks & Recreation, the life-long Longwood resident is seemingly busy as ever, volunteering her time or working with the Florida High School Athletic Association state tennis championships, the Mid-Florida Tennis Association and various food and equipment drives for schools, and Special Olympics tennis on a year-round basis.

“It’s pretty full-time,” Harkins says of her tennis involvement, speaking earlier this month after volunteering at the USTA National Boys’ 12 Clay Courts at the USTA National Campus in Orlando. “This year for Special Olympics tennis we had to consolidate the playing formats and levels, develop and deliver a training model and conduct a statewide workshop. I also did the county and area games before the state games. I am currently working on video training models that can be used online throughout the state, and on the fall training sessions.”

USTA Florida Executive Director Doug Booth lauded Harkins’ efforts earlier this year at the state games where she was on the front lines in the USTA Florida Section’s effort to grow state-wide Special Olympics participation to 5,000 athletes. “She volunteered to be the tournament director, and has worked hard to make the game more accessible to the athletes using the 36- and 60-foot courts and the red, orange and green balls,” Booth said.

Harkins “poured in her sweat and tears, along with some raindrops, to make the two-day tennis event one to remember,” added USTA Florida Associate Executive Director & Director of Recreational Tennis Andy McFarland. “She is an amazing leader, getting the volunteers organized, the athletes to maximize their participation, and the coaches to understand how the modified equipment and scoring methods are better for all involved.”

Harkins in 2012 receiving the Eve Kraft Award, the USTA’s top national honor for volunteers

No stranger to turning around large projects, over her career Harkins played a pivotal part in Orlando’s tennis boom.

She first established Red Bug Park, then a few years later helped launch Sanlando Park, and other public areas totaling an additional 54 tennis courts in the county. That’s 54 more than the zero the Orlando area had when she started with the parks and recreation department in the 1970s.

“The Disney boom and the tennis boom of the ’70s occurred at the same time,” said the 42-year volunteer for the USTA Florida Section. “The county began buying land for public parks. It was natural to include a few tennis courts at the active parks to meet the surge of interest in tennis. Tennis was easy to incorporate — a game for all ages, healthy benefits, family activities, etc. I was able to tap into USTA resources, and the USTA programs were a huge success.”

Today, in her retirement years, the 5.0-rated player says she doesn’t play as much as she used to. But tennis remains her social glue to meet new people, stay healthy and get people on the court — namely her grandchildren.

“I strongly believe tennis plays a very important role in my community promoting healthy life styles, social interaction and family activity,” she says. “It is something I was able to do with my own children and now my grandchildren. I enjoy playing orange- and red-ball tennis with my grandchildren. It’s a lot more fun!”

USTA Florida thanks Cindy Harkins as the August 2017 Florida Tennis Volunteer of the Month for a lifetime of growing tennis, for all ages and abilities, in the Orlando area and throughout Florida.


Harkins and her daughter Sarah (center) at the 2008 USTA Florida “Bobby Curtis” Junior State Championships

Birthplace: Orlando
Family: husband Chip, daughter JoAnn, son-in-law Patrick and their five children: Packy, Jack, Charlotte, Milly and Georgia; son John and daughter-in-law Lauren; and daughter Sarah.
Favorite Movie: Steel Magnolias
Favorite Food: Anything Mexican with a cold margarita
Favorite Travel: “My goal is to visit all our national parks — favorites to date are the Grand Canyon and Yosemite, but I have a lot to go!”
Favorite Shot: One-handed slice backhand
My earliest tennis memory was…”taking a clinic at the Winter Park Racquet Club with Maureen Connolly.”
If I could play tennis with three people, they would be…”My dad, Evonne Goolagong and Roger Federer.”
When I am not playing tennis I am…”Active in my church, enjoying time with my family, helping care for my mom, and playing with my grandchildren.”
My best tennis memory is…”the annual Thanksgiving Family Tennis Tournament.”