Hall of Fame Person

By Kevin Wittner, USTA.com

Surprise, Ariz.Janet Balbutin has been inducted into the Yuba College Hall of Fame. Last month, she was also inducted into the Northern California Sports Association Hall of Fame. But Janet doesn’t want to talk about that. In fact, she says it was a mistake that was inducted at all.

One needs to dig a little deeper into Balbutin’s story from a meager upbringing to present day to learn how two institutions could make the same egregious “mistake.”

Balbutin grew up as one of 13 brothers and sisters on a 16-acre farm in Yuba City, Calif., where her father and the children tended to tomato, melon and peach crops.

“We were an indigent family, who didn’t even know we were poor. Our neighbors were so generous to us, bringing us fresh fruits, fresh vegetables and other goods,” Balbutin says. “At the time, I didn’t realize how generous they were because I thought everyone did that. A lot of people helped us along the way.”

One day her benefactors brought tennis racquets, and the Balbutin clan began playing tennis in the tomato fields, and eventually Janet started a team at her high school, teaching her classmates the game she loved. From there, she went on to have a successful career Yuba College in the 1960s, before moving on to pursue a career as a pharmacist.

By 1997, Balbutin had moved to Chico, Calif., which is approximately an hour’s drive away from Yuba City, where she says the support for “tennis was dwindling” at the Chico Racquet Club and Resort. That’s when the club’s half dozen owners approached her and asked for suggestions. Balbutin recommended reinstalling the club’s restaurant and improving some of the simpler amenities to make patrons more comfortable.

The plan worked, but shortly thereafter the owners came back to Balbutin with news that they planned to turn her beloved home facility into a trailer park.

“I said to myself, I have to do something,” Balbutin recalls. “I called the bank and we made the deal the next day. It’s just tennis and a small fitness area, and we don’t make much money but we pay all our bills.”

In addition to the recommendations she made to the previous owners, Balbutin created a community atmosphere with the club under her stewardship. “I tried to introduce people to each other,” Balbutin says, “and hoped that by everybody knowing each other they would play more, and we would be a more active tennis-playing club.”

The plan worked, and now the club is thriving.

Friend of 30 years and tennis teammate Judy Newton describes Balbutin as “a great human being and an overly generous person.” However, during an interview Newton struggles to recall a specific example of Balbutin’s generosity.

Five minutes later, Newton races over to a reporter to relay a story she just overheard from a teammate. “Just this morning, Janet showed up before anyone else and brought breakfast for the entire Surprise Tennis and Racquet Complex maintenance staff,” Newton says. “She got here early, sat down and ate with them. That’s Janet right there.”

Despite Balbutin’s humble and self-deprecating recap of the various honors bestowed upon her, it is clear that her love of tennis is the driving factor behind her efforts.

“I enjoy tennis an awful lot. It is such a great sport because it teaches manners, camaraderie and you get to meet people from all over the world. I believe tennis is on the upswing.”

Even if Balbutin doesn’t know why she is in the Hall of Fame, it’s apparent to the rest of us why she belongs.

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