Eve Kraft Award winners: Carrying on a legacy of lending a hand
Tennis in the parks. Community Tennis Associations. Tennis formats for kids, taught to under-resourced youngsters in after-school programs. All of these, and more, are from outreach done close to home, at the grass-roots level. And in many ways, this is all thanks to Eve Kraft, the woman who served as visionary who by sheer force of will and succeeded in getting tennis industry leaders to look to communities as the next big thing.
The late Henry Talbert, who later became executive director of the USTA Southern California Section, worked with Kraft in the 1970s. “It was my good fortune to be hired by Eve and her colleague at the time, John Conroy, who was the tennis and squash coach at Princeton in 1974,” Talbert told Racquet Sports Industry magazine in 2010. “Back then, they were two lonely voices suggesting to what was then the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association that group instruction on parks and playgrounds were the wave of the future, because there were so many more people who fit that model than there would be of people who would become champions."
Even with Kraft's professional background (she and Conroy had been instrumental in founding the Princeton Tennis Program in 1954; and in 1971, when Princeton University first admitted women, Kraft became the women's varsity tennis coach), doubts lingered within the industry about the concept of teaching tennis to the masses.
"One of the things that was just beginning to happen in the 1960s and 70s was that tennis was starting to come out of the country clubs and more into the parks, thanks to group instruction," recalled Anne Humes, a friend of Kraft’s who later worked for the USTA’s Office of the President. "Eve saw that, and what she was trying to do was emulate the Princeton tennis program all around the country—she wanted to try to help other communities establish these little service organizations for tennis with the idea that you could get quality group tennis instruction and learn the game at affordable prices."
Over time, the volunteer group Kraft and Conroy began gained momentum. Community tennis organizations grew. Ultimately, Kraft's office began creating and supplying teaching resources, instructor guides and more—and her office in Princeton, N.J., became the USTA's Center for Research and Education. Kraft's role and influence in the USTA grew as well. She was the co-founder and director of the USTA Tennis Teachers' Conference and helped establish the USTA Foundation. She was inducted into the USTA Middle States Tennis Hall of Fame in 1994 and into the International Tennis Association's Women's Collegiate Hall of Fame in 1996.
In the face of doubts and opposition from industry leaders, Kraft's stubbornness and perseverance ultimately won out. Kraft died in 1999, but her presence on community tennis courts is still very much felt today. The home of the Princeton Tennis Program is known as the Eve Kraft Community Tennis Center. And each year, the USTA honors outstanding stewardship in community tennis with the Eve Kraft Community Service Award—the highest grassroots honor in tennis. Here, we look at three of the past winners of this most prestigious award.
(To see the complete list of Eve Kraft Award winners, and find out more about the award, click here.)
Delaine Mast, who won the Eve Kraft Community Service Award in 2016, has seemingly done it all in tennis, from working tirelessly at the grass-roots level to working closely with Billie Jean King and other World TeamTennis pros in her longtime role as National Director for WTT Community Tennis. In fact, King and WTT established the “Delaine Mast Award” in 2000 to honor CTAs run by volunteer boards that contribute to the growth of tennis and WTT in their communities.
In her role with WTT, Mast has brought tennis to tens of thousands of youngsters across the country.
But closer to home, in Lancaster, Pa., she’s the executive director of Tennis Central, an NJTL chapter that, in normal years, serves about 2,000 youngsters annually. She also coaches tennis in the innercity school district in Lancaster, one of the largest in the state with 11,000 kids, but also one of the poorest, she says. In addition, she’s the longtime coach for the McCaskey High School team. Mast also is an avid volunteer, including serving on the USTA National Board of Directors in 2010, USTA Middle States president in 1998 and continual service on national and section committees.
“I knew Eve Kraft personally as a friend and mentor from Middle States,” Mast says.
“She was amazing, and I just loved hearing her talk about how important community tennis was. She was already stressing the importance of tennis and education—and this was before NJTLs came into the USTA. Back then, the USTA was all about the US Open, and Eve just basically taught everybody how important tennis programming is.”
Rex Maynard is a man with a big personality and an even bigger heart—and he’s been a volunteer with the USTA for 45 years. He began as a local volunteer in his hometown of Belton, S.C., population 4,200, and rose to serve as USTA Southern President and twice as USTA Delegate for USTA Southern. He received the Eve Kraft Community Service Award in 2014, then a year later, he received the Order of the Palmetto, the highest civilian honor bestowed on citizens of South Carolina.
Outside of tennis circles, Maynard is the owner of Maynard Home Furnishings, for which he appears in television ads in upstate South Carolina using his trademark introduction: “Hello, nice people.”
Maynard has served as the Palmetto Championships chairman and tournament director for 40 years (the junior event started in Belton in 1957, and Maynard played in the very first one). “It’s a unique event, played over Memorial Day weekend,” he says. “Not too many tournaments have been played in the same venue for this long. As the tournament has grown over the years, it’s spread to other courts beyond our little town.”
He also runs a number of other tournaments and events with the Belton Tennis Association, where he sits on the board.
In 2016, Maynard was inducted into the Southern Tennis Hall of Fame, just one of many honors he’s received locally, at the section level and at the national level. Among his passions is his service to the Southern Tennis Patrons Foundation, for which he served as a past trustee and chairman.
“The Eve Kraft Award is a wonderful honor, and quite humbling,” Maynard says. “I’ve always said even though I’ve had state, section and national positions, I always feel I make the most difference at the local level.”
NJTL alumnus Brenda Gilmore co-founded and serves as president of the Prince George’s Tennis & Education Foundation (PGTEF) in Prince George’s County, Md. While COVID has caused many challenges to PGTEF over the past year, Gilmore continues to set things up for when tennis can come back more fully, including keeping kids involved through virtual sessions and working to get tennis into more schools locally. “We’ve run into some barriers, but we’re hanging in there,” she says.
Gilmore played on the wheelchair tennis circuit starting in 1984 to 1990. She worked for the USTA Mid-Atlantic Section from 1990 to 2000 as the school program director, “so part of my job was getting schools on board to include tennis in their phys ed classes or after-school programs,” she says.
“That was how I first learned about NJTL. I had helped start so many NJTLs after a few years, but realized that I didn’t have one in my neighborhood. In 1993, I worked with some tennis enthusiasts to start Prince George’s County and it’s been going ever since.”
“I first met Eve Kraft at a wheelchair tennis tournament in the 1980s,” Gilmore says. “She was talking to me about wheelchair tennis; I didn’t really know anything about it at the time.”
In 2011, Gilmore was honored—and “elated,” she says—to be named the Eve Kraft Community Service Award winner. “Eve really pushed grassroots tennis, and that’s what I’ve always been about. She was such a fighter for the cause.”
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