A Man Who Changed New England Tennis
James Maimonis, Manager, Media & Communications | February 12, 2020
BROOKLINE, MA- If you wanted something done, you knew you could count on Leo Power. The former USTA New England President was a doer, and whether it was being there for his family and friends or altering the landscape of New England tennis like no one else could, he always delivered.
Leo’s first love, basketball, led him to an education and a career at Boston College. He played on the varsity team, went on to become a “Triple Eagle,” earning three degrees and had a memorable 47-year career working at BC as the Director of the Institute of Scientific Research.
Shortly after college, Leo discovered another sport, tennis. He was seeking out a sport that he could get good at quickly, and tennis appeared to be the answer. His first interaction with tennis was as a hobby, and little did he know, shortly after, it would be the sport he would become synonymous with in New England for the better part of his life.ADVERTISEMENT
Leo’s competitive tennis career got off to a bit of a slow start, however.
“He played a few times with a good friend of his, and before long, decided to sign up for a local tournament. He played a woman in the first round,” his son Bill Power recalls. “Feeling confident in the warmup, he decided it would be a nice thing to do if he gave her the first game of the match. I’m not sure what the final score was, but he lost that match. His respect for the game and his competitive spirit took over from there.”
That was Leo in a nutshell. He always seemed to find himself in the middle of a classic moment, and he was always willing to share a story. There was never a shortage of humor when Leo was around, but with that, he made it a point to always do the right thing and set a positive example for his kids.
As he grew up and started a family with his wife of 57 years, Kathi, who also played tennis, Leo’s focus shifted. The sport that was once a hobby for him, quickly became a passion and soon, a lifestyle. And while he still played competitively and had his share of successes, his kids’ successes became the priority.
Leo passed on his love of tennis to his four kids, Leo III, Karen, Elaine and Bill, with whom he and Kathi spent countless hours on the court. From driving near and far to USTA tournaments in their station wagon to hitting as a family on Saturday mornings at the BC athletic complex, many of the family memories centered around tennis.
“My parents loved to hit with all of us and acted as our coaches during the early years of playing. All four children played local club tournaments as well as New England sanctioned tournaments, and numerous friendships were made, including the parents of our friends befriending our parents,” Leo Power III said. “My father loved the fact that we could compete on the courts with our friends and then hang out together afterwards. He and my mom always offered housing to our out-of-state friends.”
Leo became invested in his kids and their matches, and their joys became his pleasures.
“I loved talking to my dad about my tennis matches when I was a kid and I shared tennis stories throughout my adult life as well,” said Karen Power McNamara. “He was such a good listener and really showed that he was interested. He seemed to have loved hearing the stories of who I played, but most of all I think he just loved to see the smile on my face after playing the great game of tennis.”
Leo and Kathi often played mixed doubles, and Leo competed regularly with his kids in father-son/daughter tournaments. Leo III recalls one of his favorite on-court memories with his father that turned into a life lesson.
“I remember playing a father-son tournament with my father when I was 11 years old. We had match point on our opponents and my father called me to the net and said to shake hands with the other team,” Leo III said. “I responded that the match wasn’t over, and as we approached the net, he told me and our opponents that we were not going to be able to play the next round tomorrow. We forfeited the match so the other team could move on and play the next round. I’ve never forgotten how thankful our opponents were for that kind gesture.”
Elaine Power Cosseboom recalls one of her favorite memories of her father from their time playing at Sudbury Tennis Club in Framingham, MA.
“One year, he entered the men’s singles tournament at the club and had to play a 10-year-old boy in the main draw. He lost pretty handily and walked off the court not feeling so happy with himself. To make it worse, the boy approached him after the match and asked my father if there was any way he could give him a ride home,” Elaine said. “The name of the 10-year-old boy was Ferdi Taygan. Ferdi went on to play at UCLA and then the professional tour, winning 19 career doubles titles, including the 1982 French Open. So, in the end, my father lost to a French Open Champion.”
All four children went on to achieve rankings in the New England junior circuit and eventually played Division I collegiate tennis. Leo III played at Northwestern, while Elaine, Karen and Bill all played for BC.
It was around the time his kids were growing up (mid-1970s) that Leo discovered his passion for grassroots tennis. Leo got involved with USTA New England (then known as the New England Lawn Tennis Association (NELTA) as a volunteer. As he learned more about the organization and became more regularly involved, he made it a goal to change the way things were run.
His passion and dedication for growing the sport, along with the ability to voice his opinion, permitted him to successfully climb the ranks of the organization.
“For a guy who grew up playing basketball all his life, he sure became addicted to and passionate about the game of tennis. I think his top priority was how to grow the game from a grassroots level,” Bill recalled. “I feel like that is something the USTA has really embraced and realized how powerful it can be toward making tennis a sport of a lifetime for everyone across all demographics, race, income levels, urban cities and rural neighborhoods.”
By 1977, Leo had become chairman of NELTA’s junior competition committee. And 10 years later, he began his four-year term as president.
“Leo’s involvement with tennis went from player, to parent of players, to learning about rules and regulations, to volunteering, to New England board member, to President, two times voted to the National Nominating Committee, two times elected to the USTA National board and selected by two former presidents as national President Appointee. I don’t believe he ever missed a meeting either for New England or National with the exception of the last New England meeting when he was too sick to travel,” Kathi said.
Leo took his role as president extremely seriously and made it a point his board did as well. In his tenure as president, he had two achievements that stood out as his proudest. The first was successfully changing the name of NELTA to USTA (United States Tennis Association) New England in order to align with USTA National. Soon after the change was made, eight other USTA Sections followed New England’s lead and did the same.
The second was creating state advisory committees, which are now referred to as state association boards. Leo knew each state had different degrees of involvement and accomplishment and he wanted to fund each accordingly.
“To understand the impact that Leo had on the USTA and USTA New England, you need to understand what NELTA and the USTA were like in the 1980s,” said Trish Arnold, who served as and still remains USTA New England’s only female president. “It was very much a white male organization mainly concerned with running tennis tournaments and ranking players. Leo helped to change the organization, not just the name, to be more inclusive and to develop tennis for all ages, abilities and populations. He embraced diversity in every aspect of tennis.”
Arnold added, “Leo encouraged and supported me as I moved up the leadership ranks of USTA New England. There were many meetings where I was the only female. Although I am, and was not shy, it was always great to know that I was going to get support from Leo even if we disagreed on something. Although I appreciated all that Leo did at the time, 20 years later I am particularly aware of his innate integrity, his willingness to speak-up and step-up, and to roll up his sleeves and do what needed to be done.”
Leo and his family made such a profound impact on New England tennis that by 1980, they were awarded the NELTA Family of the Year.
“He was really proud of that award. That picture of us was displayed proudly at our home. It was a tribute to him and the volunteer work he did for NELTA but also the success that all of us had on the tennis court,” Bill said.
Just weeks later, the family became, at that time, and still to this day, the second family from New England to win USTA’s national honor. Then in 1984, Leo won the Gardner Ward Chase Memorial Award New England’s highest honor for lifetime achievement.
“He was the ‘Godfather’ of New England tennis, and we who served on committees and the board with him were part of the ‘family,’ said Bob Greene, USTA New England Past President and current member of the USTA National Strategic Planning Committee. “His legacy cascades through generations of tennis luminaries who have grown the game and have inspired others to do so in continuum. In this sense, Leo’s spirit is strong and will live on. When I hear the distinctive sweet sound of a tennis ball being hit, I will think of Leo and his service to the great game that has done so much for so many.”
“Leo was the first member of the New England Board to personally greet me and welcome me to the New England family and never stopped being a personal mentor and friend for almost 20 years,” said Ron Friedman, USTA New England Past President. “He was cordial, inquisitive, knowledgeable and passionate, and his leadership extended beyond the section. He always enjoyed supporting people that were showing passion at the grassroots level because that's where tennis is grown.”
In 2002, Leo’s lifetime of hard work, innate passion to grow the game and results on the court, resulted in his induction into the USTA New England Hall of Fame.
“When Leo was inducted into the New England Hall of Fame, he was so honored,” Kathi recalled. “I believe his opening words at the induction ceremony were, ‘I was nominated to receive this great award, not for my serve, but for my service.’ Leo loved everything tennis.”
During his speech, Leo couldn’t help but insert some of his patented humor.
Greene remembers the moment vividly.
“When Leo was being inducted, his cell phone rang during his acceptance speech. He launched into a hilarious conversation with the President of the United States, who was supposedly on the other end of the line.”
Two years later in 2004, he reached another milestone in his career. He won the Super Senior Grass Court National Championship at Longwood Cricket Club with his daughter Elaine.
Leo found a home in tennis and within USTA, and most who knew him, considered him family. Leo was a mentor, friend and all-around lover of tennis.
“I had the privilege to learn a lot from Leo over the years, especially to cherish how the sport has been great to all of us and our families. Leo had a profound impact on our sport and the USTA that will be felt long into the future,” said Jeff Waters, Managing Director of Community Tennis at USTA and former USTA New England Executive Director.
Throughout his life, career and nearly 50 years volunteering in tennis, Leo never forgot the people whom he cared for most—his family, which grew over the years with the addition of seven grandchildren. Leo loved his grandchildren and was always interested in how the next generation was progressing. He always supported his family, made them laugh and taught them about tennis and life.
“Tennis was the greatest gift my parents could have given. In our stockings one year for Christmas, we all got a lifetime membership to the USTA. How lucky were we to be able to be lifetime members,” Karen said. “My dad knew that tennis was something that we would never want to stop playing, and he was right.”
Leo passed away on November 22, 2019, at the age of 84, surrounded by those who cared for him most—his family. His legacy will live on forever in New England tennis.