Captain Carobeth Kelly (center) poses with her Missouri Valley men's team.
By J. Fred Sidhu, special to USTA.com
Every now and then, you meet someone who is filled with a true passion and an abundance of enthusiasm for the sport of tennis. One of those people is Carobeth Kelly of St. Louis.
Kelly is the only female captain of a men’s team at this weekend’s USTA League Adult 40 & Over 3.5 National Championships at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. She is the leader of the USTA Missouri Valley Men’s team.
And that is only part of makes her a great tennis story.
As a tennis player, Kelly would run into an issue of getting enough court time, so three years ago, she did something few people would even consider – she went into business with her tennis coach and started the Steel Shop Tennis Club.
The club, which became St. Louis’ first new tennis club in 30 years, is housed in a large industrial building that was built in the early 1900s and was originally used to manufacture steel components for railroad cars.
Designed for tennis enthusiasts, the club offers players five courts that run end to end with nets running parallel to each court that extend from the ground to the ceiling, which means stray balls never interrupt a match. There are also three unique full-size hitting alleys that players can use to hit with ball machines.
Opening the club with her business partner was just the start for Kelly, a certified public accountant, who says she loves USTA League tennis and the different levels of play it offers participants.
She enjoys helping players who may have played tennis in the past and are looking to get back into the game.
“We have people walk through our doors and are curious about our facility. I can recruit them into our program, our drills and our classes and encourage them to play competitively because they can start at 2.5, 3.0 or wherever they belong,” she said.
“I love the team atmosphere, the idea of being on a team – I think that’s really cool. It keeps everybody young. It’s the experience I try to give people. It’s just so fun to develop that enthusiasm.”
Kelly has become so involved in promoting USTA League at her club, she has been the captain for eight different teams -- at the same time.
“It takes a captain to organize players. As I recruited players to the USTA, it naturally followed that I would be their captain,” Kelly said. “I want them to have a good experience. I also try over time to develop a co-captain for each team since I can’t attend every match.”
This weekend marks the fourth time Kelly has advanced to USTA League Nationals.
“Two years ago, I came as a captain of a men’s 3.0 team. Two weeks ago, I came as a captain of a men’s 3.0 team. And seven years ago, I came with my women’s team (as a player),” she said. “But none of us ever made it to Sunday, so that’s my new goal.”
What does it mean to Kelly to reach Nationals?
“It’s the final celebration of your achievement. I tell people it’s like going to the Olympics. You’re at a large facility with all these teams, all at the same level,” she said. “You’re with men and women, and it’s just amazing to be around that many teams, all wanting the same thing.”
In 2012, the St Louis District of the USTA presented Kelly with an award for Outstanding Contributor to the USTA League Program. The Steel Shop Tennis Club has also received an award for Outstanding Contributor to 10 and Under Programs.
for more information on the Steel Shop Tennis Club.
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