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Midwest

Pride Month Spotlight: Treasurer and Tournament Director of Second City Tennis, Zdravko Coric

Molly Doehrmann | June 17, 2021

In celebration of Pride Month, the USTA/Midwest Section is spotlighting board members of Second City Tennis (SCT) — a Chicago-based organization focused on creating and supporting social and competitive tennis programming for LGBTQIA+ and allied communities. Rounding out this two-part series is Treasurer and Tournament Director Zdravko Coric.

 

If you just moved to Chicago and are looking for opportunities to play tennis, you may get directed to Zdravko Coric.

 

"That happened to me this morning. I woke up and was like, why have I been tagged so many times on Facebook?" It was friends of Coric connecting him to new players on Facebook looking for courts and programming. Coric is a board member of Second City Tennis (SCT) and has served as treasurer for four years while directing tournaments.

 

"I’m a tournament director for one of the biggest LGBTQ tennis tournaments in the world — the Second City Tennis Classic," says Coric. Second City Tennis Classic has been running more than 30 years and Coric began directing it in 2019. 

Coric says, he wasn't able to direct the tournament last year. It was canceled due to the pandemic, but Coric had already gained so much from the SCT community during the nearly 10 years he'd been a part of it. "I moved to Chicago back in 2010. In Croatia, I played tennis... A person just recommended [Second City Tennis] during a conversation at the gym," Coric remembers. "It was word of mouth."

 

Coric joined SCT and registered for Summer Singles SCT's most popular program, with over 150 players joining each year. Summer Singles offers five divisions for players of all levels with players scheduling matches on their own. They're required to follow program regulations and there are several milestones to complete each season beginning in May.  "I just knew I wanted to play tennis, SCT was recommended, and the rest is history."

 

Coric began his first season in 2011 and became a board member five years later, but Coric has been playing tennis since he was a young teenager — picking up a racquet at 13 years old.

 

"I’m originally from Croatia," Coric says. "My hometown did not have tennis courts."

 

He says, even without tennis courts, the people of Croatia loved to celebrate professional athletes.

"For a lot of people in Croatia at that time, sports were everything. We were an independent, new country back in the 90s. So everything with the word ‘Croatia’ in it, made us very proud," Coric explains. "At that time, Goran Ivanisevic was huge. He was winning medals, he was the Wimbledon Champion, a several-time finalist… Then Iva Majoli won the Roland Garros back in 1997. Mirjana Lučić was coming up… So there were a lot of exciting tennis things on TV, but I still wasn’t able to play."

 

One day Coric asked his parents if he could take tennis lessons at a court nearly 70 miles away from their town (the closest option available). Both of his parents were teachers.

 

"We didn’t have that much money. So they agreed for me to play once a week," Coric laughs as he remembers. "Behind their backs, I was actually going three times a week using my lunch money too. I would be starving at school, just so I could afford to fit in more tennis."

 

Coric's mom was a math teacher at the school he went to with his brother, and his dad was the school principal who taught geography and history. "I felt like I was under constant pressure… All those teachers knew me. I felt like, if I’m not the best in the class, I’m disappointing my parents. They’ll be embarrassed." So Coric worked hard to become a straight 'A' student in all 16 subjects at his high school.

When Coric went to college in the capital city of Croatia, he found an amateur league to join. It had 20 players when Coric was on the team. Now, over 300 players participate every year. 

 

He says looking back, "I like competing. So for me, it was a great thing!"

 

"I was a singles player. I would avoid doubles," Coric shares, but now he admits to becoming something of a "doubles specialist" in the U.S.

 

Around 10 years ago, Coric came to the United States for the company he worked with Deloitte, an international accounting firm.

 

The company approached several employees in Croatia about temporarily working in the U.S.

 

Coric interviewed for one of the positions and got it. He would be working in Deloitte's Chicago office.

 

"It was love at first sight," Coric says. "Chicago is my favorite city now. I can’t imagine my life without it."

 

When his two years working in the U.S. ended, Coric returned to Croatia. "Life was not the same," he says.

He soon after asked to make a permanent jump to Chicago, and the Chicago team was happy to make the arrangements.

 

This summer, Coric says, he's not taking on as many big projects at Second City Tennis because life changed during the pandemic. He's playing catch up after traveling to New York and Texas while assisting with Covid-19 relief in aiding nurses' response in the global emergency.

 

In 2019, Coric quit working as an accountant and began working for a staffing agency that was responsible for thousands of traveling nurses in the pandemic.

 

In the early, spring-months of Covid-19, he was located to a New York City hotel room on Times Square at a moment when the Big Apple was suddenly the epicenter of the worldwide disaster. Coric worked out of his hotel room and helped nurses with their paychecks and taxes. He even handled some logistics, like organizing their buses.

 

"It was really scary. At points I wanted to go back to Chicago because we still didn’t know what this virus was capable of," Coric admits. "But I was not on the frontlines, and I was happy to help those people who were." 

 

For eight weeks, Coric worked in his hotel room with no days off, Monday through Sunday, working 14 hours a day.

 

When case numbers in New York began to slow, they started rising in Texas, where Coric was moved from hotel to hotel in small towns across the Lone Star State.

 

"I was there in the hotspots… It was the moment of the century and I was there," Coric says.

 

Coric's momentary time away from Chicago, pulled him slightly away from directing large projects with Second City Tennis, but it hasn't slowed his involvement. He's been helping other directors with their programming, assisting with finances, while also growing the game by word of mouth — the same way he found out about SCT years ago.

 

"While I was away from Chicago during that whole period of time, I was still communicating with new [tennis] players," Coric says.

 

That’s a responsibility Coric enjoys, and nobody gave him the role. He just enjoys meeting people.

 

"I love identifying potential new members," Coric says, and it doesn't matter their skill. Coric will find a SCT program for anyone who's new to the game or trying to get back into it. "I connect new players with old players, and when someone is new to the city— because once, I was new— it’s nice to be welcomed."

 

Coric says SCT combines everything he loves in life.

 

"I’m a huge fan of Chicago. I’m a huge fan of tennis, and obviously, as a gay person, I like this community. So I like combining all three," Coric says.

 

"With these tournaments, I want Chicago to be represented even more," he shares. "These tournaments are all around the United States and in the world. They're the reason why I met this really great group of Indianapolis folks— some of them are like my best friends now, and I met them through tennis."

 

He knows what makes a good tournament better — because he travels around the world to find the best ones.

 

"That's my big passion," he says. "To organize Second City Tennis Classic in Chicago, in order for me to be a better director, I traveled around the world to see how other tournaments are organized."

 

And Coric played in those tournaments — in the U.S. and Canada and Europe. During that time, he's found the number one thing that makes a tournament great is friendships — building a network of amazing tennis players, and creating an environment where people can meet and build new friendships.

 

It's also a number one priority for Second City Tennis. Coric says, in Chicago, tennis courts are far apart, spread all over the city, but SCT believes everyone should have an opportunity to play on their local, neighborhood courts — not in just one or two popular spots.

 

"It takes an effort from a really small group of people to bring those players together," he says. "We're happy to have our allies as well... We like our community to be inclusive."

 

After Coric's first year organizing the Second City Tennis Classic, a survey was completed to identify top tennis tournaments around the world. Out of 95 tournaments, Second City Tennis Classic made the top eight and achieved Masters status.

 

"I just felt really proud," Coric says.

 

Most days, Coric wakes up to emails (or Facebook notifications) about a new player looking for programming.

 

"They all say, 'Reach out to Zdravko, reach out to Zdravko.' Seeing those players know I can help out is the biggest reward. That’s the reason I’m doing this," Coric says.

 

He's taking time this summer to travel to Croatia for the country's first gay tennis tournament. He explains a lot of the players register under a different name than their own.

 

"I’m trying to go and be an advocate," Coric says.

 

"I was not always out. I was a closeted person for almost 30 years. Some people still don’t accept me. I know I cannot change their mind, but I know I can help build a safe environment for others through tennis… For those first 30 years, I had zero involvement in the gay community. Now that I’ve accepted myself, I want to make sure in this beautiful city, it can be safe for others. If I can help in any way, I’ll do it."

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