Leveraging diversity and creating an inclusive environment is essential to achieving the USTA mission to promote and develop the growth of tennis, and this year at the US Open, the USTA honored three sports figures who have embodied diversity at the fourth annual ICON Awards. Those honored were the NCAA's all-time winningest coach Pat Summitt, Wheelchair Tennis pioneer Randy Snow and former USTA Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer Lee Hamilton.
Summitt is known for her success on a different kind of court, with 38 years and 1,098 victories—most all time for any coach in American college history, male or female—as a Hall-of-Fame basketball coach. She was honored with the Billie Jean King Legacy Award.
"I want to thank you and let you know that it’s a pleasure for me to be here and honoring me with the Legacy Award," said Summitt after King presented her with the award. "Billie Jean’s efforts opened doors for so many people, and a lot of us were able to pursue our passion because of it."
Last summer, Summitt—who has faced the media on countless occasions after championships won and battles lost—faced the most difficult announcement in her life when revealing that she had been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease shortly after leading her University of Tennessee Lady Volunteers to a 16th Southeastern Conference (SEC) title.
The Pat Summitt Foundation was founded in late 2011 to raise funds for research to combat early-onset Alzheimer’s and for support services to patients, their families and caregivers who live with the condition. At the 2012 ESPY Awards in Los Angeles, Summitt was honored with the Arthur Ashe Courage Award and the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance, named after Summitt’s coaching contemporary Jim Valvano.
"I have a strong feeling Pat will bring the same passion and courage in this phase of her journey that she brought to her coaching career," said King.
As a young player, Snow was a state-ranked tennis prodigy in Texas with aspirations of being a Longhorn at the University of Texas at Austin. However, during the summer of 1975, when he was 16 and working on a farm, a half-ton bale of hay dislodged from Snow’s loader and crushed his spinal cord, leaving him a paraplegic.
Snow, however, was not deterred in his quest to become a top athlete and instead adjusted to becoming the most skilled and determined competitor from the seat of his wheelchair. A three-time Paralympic medalist, Snow won 22 major tournament titles as a tennis player during his career and achieved world rankings of No. 2 in singles and No. 1 in doubles. He was named ITF Wheelchair Tennis Player of the Year in 1991 and USA Wheelchair Athlete of the Year in 2000 and was a member of the U.S. Men’s World Cup team during the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Snow was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame this summer in Newport, R.I., three years after his untimely death at the age of 50. At the time, Snow was mentoring youngsters at a tennis camp in South America.
A successful stint as an executive in the oil industry, Hamilton began his second career in tennis as a volunteer in his native Texas, taking his passion for the game and serving in a variety of roles at the community and USTA section levels. He steadily worked his way up the volunteer chain, first serving as president of Community Tennis Associations in Houston and Dallas before joining the board of the USTA Texas Section, eventually becoming its president and, subsequently, the USTA’s Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer.
A gifted tennis player, Hamilton was nationally ranked in various age groups into his 70s. He passed away on June 16, 2012, at the age of 75.
"I wondered when I started, ‘What does this 70-year-old white guy know about diversity?’" said Karlyn Lothery, the USTA’s first Chief Diversity Officer, who earned the job in 2004 and reported directly to Hamilton. "To my amazement, a lot! Lee always sought out different, whether that was age, race, gender or anything else. He went for different—he went for diversity. His loyalty and tenacity were unmatched.
"If Lee wasn’t two steps in front of me, leading the way on diversity, he was standing right beside me and helping me push that boulder forward," added Lothery. "And just in case I got knocked down a little bit, he’d also be two steps behind me to pick me up."
to view a photo gallery from the 2012 ICON Awards.