Bunag, True Hall of Fame Honorees
The USTA Heart of America recently inducted two individuals, Susan True and Karen Buñag, to the Heart of America Hall of Fame. Both have influenced tennis in the Kansas City region in their own ways and are more than deserving of this honor.
Karen Buñag stands as one of the most dominant players in USTA Heart of America junior tennis history. She held the no. 1 ranking in the Missouri Valley from 1974-76, winning her age division six-straight years. She also put together a remarkable high school career, winning three consecutive KSHSAA State titles, losing just one set in those three years.
Buñag began playing tennis around the age of nine, after her family moved to the Kansas City area from Ohio. It began by watching as her father and brother went out to the courts to hit around, until she decided she wanted to try her hand at tennis as well.
“One day they said, ‘Hey, you want to try this?’ and I said ‘Okay!” Buñag said. “So, I tried hitting around a little bit.”
She found love playing the game, and as an added bonus, she was good at it. She began taking lessons with John Bregin, where her skills blossomed.
“Mr. Bregin really took me under his wing,” she said. “If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t have had any of these experiences. He worked with me every morning before and after school, on the weekends, he followed me to all the tournaments. He’s the guy.”
Buñag quickly developed into one of the top players in the nation, competing with the likes of Tracy Austin, who went on to become a three-time Grand Slam champion. She was one of the first junior players in USTA Heart of America history to win tournaments on a national level, winning the 1976 Girls’ 14U Sugar Bowl Tennis Championships and Easter Bowl Tennis Championships. She also placed runner-up to Austin at the Seventeen Magazine Tournament of Champions in Washington, D.C.
In 1978, Marvin Richmond, who went on to become the president of the USTA, saw the promise in Buñag and set up a lesson with Pancho Segura, who worked with Jimmy Connors. Richmond believed that Segura would be a good mentor for Buñag, and Segura was willing to give her a tryout.
“It was really an ‘interview’ to see if he would take me under his tutelage,” Buñag said. “My family was ready to move to California.”
Buñag impressed Segura, leading him 4-2 in the middle of a set when disaster struck. Her knee buckled from under her, resulting in months of surgery and rehab. When she returned, she continued to play at a high level, dominating on her way to her third-straight high school state title.
After her high school career, she went on to play at the University of Colorado. Unfortunately, the injury bug bit again. She re-injured her knee, and was forced to cut her collegiate career short. However, she still went on to complete her degree in Business Administration.
“The second knee injury kind of stopped me,” she said.
Buñag was active in the tennis world even after college, playing in tournaments with her brother, Royce, and teaching at a club in Chicago. She married and had three children, all of whom have attended Pepperdine University. Now, she works with autistic and otherwise disabled children.
Buñag’s decorated career speaks for itself, and earned her a place in the USTA Heart of America Hall of Fame. She attributes her tennis success to her parents, her brother, Bill Guilfoil and Bregin.
“I was absolutely thrilled. It’s a great honor to be recognized after all these years, because I had kind of forgotten about it all,” she said. “I’m hoping to be able to help out in the Heart of America in the future."
Susan True is a legend in her own right and one of the champions of women’s sports in America. Her resume is stacked, even if you don’t take tennis into account.
True became an advocate of passing Title IX legislation. She took a position at Washburn University as the school’s gymnastics coach. Along the way, she worked as a high school P.E. teacher, served with the National Federation of State High School Associations and held a position on the board of directors for USA Volleyball, Gymnastics and Field Hockey.
Even still, True maintains a strong voice for women in sport. She recognizes that things have come a long way, but that there is still work to be done.
“We will always battle for women’s fair share, especially at the collegiate level,” she said. “I hope that the young women now understand what people like Billie Jean King and a lot of other people did to make that possible.”
True became involved with tennis and the USTA later in her life, beginning as an officer for USTA Missouri Valley.
“Even though I worked at the sectional level, I was still a USTA Heart of America person,” True said.
With her previous experience as a proponent for women’s sports and a former board member of multiple national governing bodies, True felt like her niche was in the nitty-gritty of it all: bylaws.
“It seemed like every board I served on was bylaws, and it was because I was one of the pioneer women with Title IX,” True said. “One of the first things I was asked to do was make sure that the USTA Heart of America bylaws were consistent with the USTA Missouri Valley.”
True also served as the Volunteer Coordinator for the Heart of America, a role which she felt unprepared for when she took the title. Over time, it came to be one of her favorite experiences with the USTA.
“It concerned me at first, because I didn’t know how many people I knew,” she said. “But that’s probably the best thing I’ve ever been asked to do. When you’re recruiting volunteers and you work together, you really get to know each other.”
She recalls a time when USTA Heart of America hosted two large Pro Circuit events with fondness.
“I was so pleased, because the people who volunteered enjoyed it so much that they brought a whole new crew of people in to help,” True said.
True also played a vital role in helping expand tennis’s role in Kansas City. She worked with Fred Johnson to provide two years of clinics for inner-city youth.
“To see their faces, most of them had never even watched tennis, let alone held a racket,” she said. “Those are the things I’ll always remember.”
In her time with USTA Missouri Valley, she served as the Vice President, Secretary and Treasurer. She was a Chair of the Awards committee for the Missouri Valley and the Heart of America and has maintained an active status as a volunteer around the area. For her work both within the tennis world and outside of it, True has appropriately assumed her position in the USTA Heart of America Hall of Fame.
“It was a very wonderful honor,” she said. “I wasn’t a tennis player, I just got involved through volunteering. But tennis people are terrific, and to think that they would honor me by inducting me into the Hall of Fame was an incredible honor.”
For more of True’s story, you can read the article from her Gold Star Award in October.