Patti Fox won’t like this article, any more than I like writing it.
I don’t like it because it’s a farewell to the Fox family and to Patti who has meant so much to local tennis and to community recreation.
She won’t like it because it’s about her and not about the sport she loves.
She’ll roll her big, blue eyes and scoff and groan and say “P’shaw.”
But I have to write this, you see, because Patti is more than some source of information for articles. She is my neighbor and my friend.
This month, Fox is moving with her husband Larry and son Jeremy to the Missouri to be closer to her daughter Sidney’s school and to her extended family. A modest “For Sale” sign on the lawn is not an apt reflection of the seismic shock wave that ripples through the local community that is losing a high school varsity coach and tireless promoter of tennis.
“She’s been with us for seven years now,” noted Ann Mercer-McLean, board representative for the U.S. Tennis Association’s southern district and board member for the Durham-Orange Community Tennis Association (DOCTA), for which Fox was the Community Tennis Coordinator.
“I don’t know if we could ever replace her and find someone to do all the things that she does. She’s been a real asset to us and has made a real difference in both Durham and Orange County.”
Kelly Gaines, North Carolina Tennis Association executive director, said everyone should be indebted to Patti for her dedication in bringing tennis to all parts of the community.
“Her infectious spirit, her spontaneity, and her fun, happy-go-lucky attitude are so contagious, it makes tennis fun for everybody,” Gaines said.
The first time I ever interviewed Fox — for an article about the first Hispanic Tennis Carnival — I called her by the wrong name throughout the column, an unforgivable transgression by my reckoning. It was brought it to my attention later, but Patti has scarcely mentioned it in seven years since.
What struck me in covering the carnival, however, was how Patti spent the better part of nearly two hours bent over, crouched down to the level of budding tennis stars, talking softly, looking them straight in the eyes, as if each and every child with a free tennis racquet in their hand was, for a brief moment, the center of the tennis universe.
The youngsters stood transfixed, staring right back, hanging on Patti’s words — not spoken in shouts but in kind and gentle whispers.Community
Originally from Oklahoma, Fox was a state champion for Norman High before playing at the University of Oklahoma, stated a recent tribute on the Carrboro High School website. She also ran cross-country and played varsity basketball in high school.
She began her coaching career at Chapel Hill’s Smith Middle School in 2003, and began acting as DOCTA’s first Community Tennis Coordinator shortly thereafter.
“I know she’s been the tennis coach at Carrboro High School,” said Michal Zaluski, tennis director at the Chapel Hill Tennis Club, “but I think she’s impacted the community even more though her volunteer work than as the high school coach.”
Fox established several programs during her service with DOCTA, including Chapel Hill Junior Team (Quickstart) Tennis for 10-and-under youth. She developed the Tennis Titans Program, and worked numerous recreation agencies, families, and volunteers to launch the annual Hispanic Carnival locally. She worked collaboratively with NC-USTA, serving on several state committees as a volunteer, and, through DOCTA, she has helped to seed continuous growth in membership and league participation.
“Patti was just a great community tennis coordinator,” said Carrboro Recreation and Parks’ recreation supervisor Dana Hughes. “She was instrumental in starting the carnival. ... In addition to teaching lessons and summer camps for Carrboro Recreation and Parks, Patti led a tennis program which taught parents and their children how to play tennis.”A calling
One of Fox’s most popular local initiatives has been the Quickstart tennis program, teaching the sport using age-appropriate equipment and courts.
“Some people have a calling, and I think Patti’s calling is community tennis,” Chapel Hill Parks and Recreation Director Butch Kisiah said. “She gets that kid out playing tennis who’s not necessarily a country-clubber and or who doesn’t have access to those kinds of facilities … which is important because it’s a lifelong sport.”
Perhaps that’s what keeps Patti’s outlook so young. Maybe getting down eye-to-eye with so many hopeful, impressionable young athletes gives Patti Fox a unique perspective on pure and growing love of tennis. And perhaps what holds the youngsters’ gaze is that same childlike wonder and purity of spirit in Patti’s own eyes.
“She was always happy, she always had a smile on her face, she knew the game, and she loved the game,” Zaluski said.Yeoman
In a number of days, Patti and her family will move on, and, given Patti’s sense of humility, it will be a departure not in a shout but in a whisper. But though her absence cannot be estimated, her presence here and her influence on youth and beginning tennis players will be felt for decades, maybe lifetimes.
“What she’s done…through her own efforts and winning personality has opened the doors for so many kids to be involved in tennis,” Kisiah said. “Patti has just done yeoman’s work for community tennis and it will pay dividends in this community for years.”
I know she’ll be missed greatly in the tennis community. No club or court will be quite the same without her.
While I still don’t play tennis very well — I haven’t so much picked up a racket in years — I’m simply going to miss my friend.
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