Everyone was “on their game” at the 15th annual Colorado Tennis Hall of Fame Gala. The event celebrated a new class of four incredible inductees: Sara Anundsen, Kelly Lovato, Cory Ross and Art Thomson. In addition, the USTA Colorado recognized a host of 2014 Annual Award Winners.
It was also a winning night for the Colorado Youth Tennis Foundation, the non-profit arm of USTA Colorado. Auction Divas Founder and Lead Auctioneer Shelly St. John successfully garnered two $10,000 donations from audience members less than 20 minutes into the program. Many other attendees raised paddles, committing to support the organization in amounts ranging from $1,000 to $5,000. All that happened before any of the nine enticing live auction items had been talked about.
“This kind of support is phenomenal,” reported a stunned USTA Colorado Executive Director Fritz Garger. Along with generous donations this year’s event seated nearly 100 more people than last year, moving total attendance from 330 to 405. “The Hall of Famers have done so much for the sport. They recognize the value of tennis on their lives and they — along with their friends and family — are giving back. It’s incredible how much of a difference this is going to make in the lives of the youth we serve through the foundation.”
Honoree Art Thomson, who is now battling ALS, shared that tennis gave him some of his greatest friendships. His longtime court partners, Ed McWilliams and CD Bodam gave testament to his statement.
“We are old doubles partners, dating back to CU and then 20 years after that,” said CD Bodam. “I am tickled pink for Art for this honor.”
Award winner Joshua King, who was recognized with the John Hough Award for sportsmanship, was cheered on by his grandmother and great grandmother.
“He’s a great tennis player, but also a really great kid,” said his beaming grandma Pat McMillian. “People are noticing he is a really good sport and we are so proud.”
And now to introduce the superstars of the night: The Class of 2014 Colorado Tennis Hall of Fame Inductees:
Sara Anundsen — A native Coloradan, Sara was undefeated in prep competition, capturing the No. 1 singles high school state championships title in each of the three years she competed for Columbine High School (2001-03). She was also a dominant force on the national junior circuit, twice earning a top-2 ranking in the G16s. Sara won the 2002 Denver City Open women’s doubles title, and in 2003 picked up the DCO women’s singles title and the Colorado State Open women’s doubles crown. A two-time All American at the University of North Carolina (2006-07), Sara partnered with Jenna Long to compile an impressive 29-6 record en route to capturing the 2007 NCAA doubles title, the first in school history. The duo was named ITA National Doubles Team of the Year, and earned a wild card berth into the US Open. As assistant coach for the UNC Tar Heels, Sara helped lead the team to a second place finish at the 2014 NCAA championships.
Esequiel Kelly Lovato — For 25 years, Esequiel “Kelly” Lovato was program director at La Alma Recreation Center in west Denver, starting one of Denver Parks’ first youth tennis programs. A community/anti-gang activist, Kelly knew the value of a strong recreation center where the community could use their energy in positive ways. Recognized in 1993 by the Rocky Mountain News as one of the Hispanic community’s unsung heroes, Kelly spent his life working with inner-city youth who were exposed daily to a host of dangers. He profoundly impacted an entire community and changed countless lives, teaching kids about responsibility, respect and how tennis could open doors to bigger opportunities. While many of his students went on to be successful tennis players, many more went on to become successful people. Kelly was recognized previously with USTA Colorado’s inaugural Arthur Ashe Award in 1992 for his contributions to under-served populations.
Cory Ross – A two-time Colorado High School State No. 1 singles champion 1998-1999) and nationally-ranked junior player, Cory played collegiate tennis, first at Baylor, and then for three years at Louisiana State University, where he was named Second-Team All-Louisiana twice, in 2002 and again in 2003. In addition to his outstanding athletic performance, Cory was also recognized for his outstanding sportsmanship, winning the prestigious 1998 Bobby Kaplan Sportsmanship Award at the Boys’ 16 National Championships in Kalamazoo, MI, among many others. In 2007, Cory completed the “Colorado Slam”, winning all four of the major Colorado men’s open singles events (Elam Classic, the Denver City Open, the Colorado State Open and the Intermountain/Boulder Open) in the same year, 40 years after Harold Sears accomplished this feat. During his playing career, Cory captured 31 major Colorado events — amassing 10 Singles, 12 Doubles and 9 Mixed in all.
Art Thomson – Despite an inauspicious start in his first-ever tournament, Art competed for George Washington High School, later matriculating at the University of Colorado-Boulder, where he competed at the No. 1 singles position, finishing third in the Big 8 Conference. Art captured the 1981 Colorado State Open singles title at age 34, and holds three major Colorado open doubles titles – two Denver City Open crowns (1971 and 1972) and one Intermountain Championships (1973), and was runner up at the Denver City Open twice (1970 and 1973). A dominant force in age division play in Colorado and across the country, Art amassed 23 “triple titles” (singles, doubles and mixed) between the ages of 35-55, and in 1993, was named USPTA 45 and over singles player of the year. During his 50 plus years as a teaching professional in Colorado, Art has shared his love and passion for the game of tennis with countless students.
The Colorado Youth Tennis Foundation, a 501(c)3 fundraising arm of USTA Colorado, promotes the physical, emotional and social development of all youth to aspire to become active, productive and responsible citizens. CYTF has touched the lives of thousands of Colorado kids since its formation in 1961. CYTF provides individual player scholarships and program grants to kids and organizations throughout the state. CYTF is committed to providing tennis as a means to instill these attributes in Colorado’s children regardless of economic, social or ethnic background.