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No generation gap here!

Teaching tennis is family tradition for some USPTA members

Susan Torrance and her mother, Dr. Shelby Frizzell Torrance.
Susan Torrance and her mother, Dr. Shelby Frizzell Torrance.

by Jill Phipps, USPTA staff writer

August 2002 -- Over the past 75 years, the meaning of the “USPTA family” has taken on a very personal significance for a growing number of members.

Some grown children have followed one or both of their parents into the tennis-teaching profession and proudly carry on the USPTA tradition of excellence.

Those who are closest – literally – among the dozens of couples and families sharing the bond of USPTA membership have found themselves working together at the same facility.

Perhaps the best-known example of this rare breed is the founding family of the Evert Tennis Academy in Boca Raton, Fla.

John Evert and his big sister, Chris, consider the academy a tribute to their father, James “Jimmy” Evert, who became USPTA member No. 217 in 1947.

“One reason Chrissie and I started it was to kind of carry on my father’s legacy,” said John Evert, executive director and director of player development at the Evert Tennis Academy.

“Chrissie wanted to give something back, and my Dad had coached and taught a lot of top players that came out of this area in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s,” John Evert said. “We were kind of a tennis family that’s been in and around Florida for a long time.”

Their father taught tennis for 49 years at Holiday Park, a public facility in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., that is now called Jimmy Evert Park.

Although he is now retired, the academy’s founding inspiration “comes around and watches,” John Evert said.

Chris Evert, the winner of 18 Grand Slam titles, teaches a couple of times a week at the academy.

The two siblings own Evert Tennis Academy with International Management Group, where John seasoned his taste for developing tennis talent.

Another of the five Evert siblings and fellow USPTA member, Drew, also teaches at the academy.

Jimmy, Chris and John are all life members of USPTA. George Bacso, a legend in his own rite as the Association’s late director of certification and academies, tested both Chris and John for membership and later worked at the Evert Academy part time.

“It’s good to have that credential under your belt, and by being out in the field you are more street smart,” John Evert said of USPTA membership.

“By being tested and studying information that USPTA puts out, you become more knowledgeable from a scientific standpoint and from a book standpoint,” he said. “You apply that to your experience in tournaments or out in the field to make you a better coach.”

While techniques have evolved through the years, some components of the game – such as a solid work ethic, discipline and dealing with pressure – will never really change, John Evert observed.

The younger Evert believes his father is pleased that “his children can continue to touch people through tennis.” He said the siblings have spent a big part of their lives working to ensure that their father can “come out to the academy to see 100 kids out here playing, having fun, doing something really healthy and setting goals; it’s a great environment.

“It’s what it was like in the old days in Holiday Park,” John said. “In terms of spreading the word and getting more kids to participate, I think it makes him happy.”

Fritz and Diane Gildemeister, fellow USPTA pros working together at the same facility, are on the flip side of the Evert family story. In the Gildemeisters’ case, it was the parents who brought one tennis-teaching offspring to their club – and they would like to recruit another.

Fritz Gildemeister is the tennis director at The Dunes Golf and Beach Club in Myrtle Beach, S.C. Diane and their son, Fritz II, share the role of head pros at the club, which has a total of about 500 members.

Fritz, 53, and Diane, 55, who have worked together as tennis pros since 1971, recruited their 25-year-old son from a country club in Atlanta a year ago because “we thought he could add something to the program and we wouldn’t be guessing what his knowledge and capabilities were. He was a known entity and it would be easier to keep him here,” Diane said, adding that longevity behooves a club.

“I learned a lot through my parents, growing up with them as directors,” Fritz II said. He had his “own set of ways” after working for them as an assistant pro at Hollow Rock Racquet and Swim Club in Durham, N.C., four years ago. But “it was nice to have an opportunity to work with my parents again,” he noted.

If they worked at a bigger club, the Gildemeisters would have their daughter, Marissa, a 24-year-old pro, “in a second,” Diane said. But Marissa is busy teaching 40 to 50 hours a week at North Hills Tennis Club in Raleigh, N.C. She recently became certified as a Professional 1 member of USPTA – the fourth in her family.

The other Gildemeister child, 21-year-old Katrina, is attending North Carolina State University on a full tennis scholarship and serving an internship as a tennis instructor with the City of Raleigh Parks and Recreation Department. Katrina, who lives with Marissa, is thinking about going to graduate school and has not yet determined her career path, her father said.

All three Gildemeister children helped their parents with their tennis programs during the summers when they were growing up. But the couple tried not to push any of them into a tennis career. “We didn’t head them into teaching or the USPTA,” Diane said. “It just kind of happened.”

The court chemistry also was right for the family of John and Harriet Somerville of Hawaii. John, “Hattie” and two of their four children currently are USPTA pros. One other child is a former member and the fourth also used to teach tennis.

John Somerville, 66, retired in 2000, after 30 years of teaching tennis. But now he serves as assistant pro at Poipu Kai Resort in Poipu Beach, Kauai.

The head pro happens to be Hattie Somerville, his wife of 41 years. “If she has to turn away a lesson, she can refer it to her assistant,” John said with a laugh. “I say, ‘OK, whatever.’ ”

Actually, the two do complement each other professionally. “She likes teaching private lessons and I love clinics because of the spontaneity,” John said.

John Somerville, who has been a member of USPTA for nearly 30 years, also works as an administrative assistant to his daughter, Hannah, a very successful real estate agent. “I’m a great little gofer,” he joked. “I learned a long time ago, when I got married, that it’s better not to have an ego.”

The Somervilles’ youngest child, Betsy Purpura, is a USPTA member and women’s tennis coach at Seton Hall University in South Orange, N.J. She also teaches at the Center Court in South Orange.

Her brother, Henry Somerville, also is a USPTA pro and works as head men’s and women’s coach at Hawaii Pacific University in Honolulu. He also is director of tennis at Oahu Club in Honolulu.

And Henry’s twin brother, Jim, is also a USPTA member who is now a former tennis pro who now sells computers and office equipment in Salinas, Calif. He had to quit teaching tennis after he hurt his back snowboarding, John Somerville said.

But Jim, like the rest of the family, still plays competitive tennis. That includes sister Hannah Sirois, who taught tennis about 15 years ago.

John Somerville currently is ranked No. 1 in men’s 65s in the state of Hawaii, and his wife is ranked No. 16 in the nation in (USTA) women’s 65 singles and No. 10 in women’s 65 doubles.

Moreover, Hattie and daughter Betsy, who has played doubles in all four Grand Slams, are ranked No. 1 in the nation in the senior mother-daughter category. They worked hard for that gold ball, their proud husband and father said.

“I am delighted that they are all doing what they want to do,” John Somerville said of his four children. “I am equally delighted that they all still play at a very competitive level. So many former pros and players are now playing golf.”

Susan Torrance, a 52-year-old USPTA pro in Corpus Christi, Texas, still competes in senior nationals.

She and her mother, Dr. Shelby Frizzell Torrance, a USPTA life member who lives in Yorktown, Texas, played mother-daughter tournaments in that state and were undefeated for two years.

Mother and daughter both competed in the U.S. Open. Susan played the Grand Slam in the early 1980s and Shelby qualified in the main draw in the late 1940s. They also both qualified for Wimbledon. Her mother didn’t go, but Susan played both the Wimbledon and French Open qualifiers.

The pair also shared a working relationship after Dr. Torrance completed a 34-year teaching and coaching career at Del Mar Junior College in Corpus Christi.

Susan Torrance said she was thrilled to work with her mother at the Al Kruse Municipal Center in Corpus Christi for several years. Her mother, who will be 79 this year, retired in 1991.

Susan succeeded her mother as head pro and is still teaching at the Al Kruse Center, where her cross-generational students range in age from 4 to 87.

Susan Torrance believes her own career reflects her mother’s legacy.

“I’m living proof of how much she loved the game, because somehow she passed it on to me,” she said. “I know when I’m on the court I’m passing on knowledge that comes from my mother’s early coaches at the University of Texas.

“That’s a wonderful gift when you’re passing on generational knowledge about a sport,” Susan Torrance said. “You want to be innovative and have the latest techniques, but if you can combine that with the truths of the past, you make a wonderful educator.”

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