San Diego honors local standouts, service award winners

Passion, dedication and excellence were at the heart of every recipient who recently received an award sponsored by the San Diego District Tennis Association (SDDTA). Eight people and three organizations or events were honored by over 125 in attendance at the La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club.

Among the honorees was tennis advocate Jim Winters, who received the District’s Community Service Award for his excellence in leadership, volunteering and a lifetime of making the San Diego tennis world a better place. A longtime supporter of the LGBT tennis community, Winters received a standing ovation for his drive and determination that produced multiple pathways and playing opportunities. He has also contributed to under-served youth tennis, taught free local clinics to players of all ages, and so much more.

“I’m always in awe of community service winners like Jim and I feel a little bit guilty thinking I’m not doing more,” said Jim Lackritz, a longtime friend and the event Master of Ceremonies.“ Jim Winters has a long list of accomplishments and we may not have time to list them all. I wonder, when does he sleep?”

Winters’ influence goes back to 1983 when he founded the San Diego Tennis Federation, the first ever LGBT organization in San Diego for open and elite gay players as well as anyone who wanted to play tennis. The Federation offered informal open pot luck round robin play, a challenge ladder, and an annual dual club match with the Los Angeles Tennis Association. Winters also helped organizational efforts that have raised money for The AIDS Walk of San Diego, Feed America SD, SD Pride Festival, Toys For Kids in Imperial County and We Care, the latter a holiday charity event for at risk kids and low income families.

The Female and Male Players of the Year were Liane Bryson and Taylor Fritz. In 2018, Bryson added two USTA Gold Balls to her collection of five with tournament wins in the national 70’s tournaments on hardcourts and grasscourts. She was named to the Althea Gibson Team Cup and helped USA reach the finals. Fritz, from Rancho Santa Fe, is a homegrown tennis pro. The 21-year-old is currently ranked No.50 in the ATP and recently reached the 4th round of the Australian Open.

The Male and Female Pros of the Year were Juan Garcia and Darice Carnaje. Garcia, the Director of Tennis at the San Dieguito Tennis Club, was a strong junior player who won a USTA Gold Ball in Men’s 35’s. Carnaje, a multi-sport athlete who excels in tennis and basketball, coaches both the La Jolla boys and girls tennis teams and led each to a CIF title in her first years at that school.

The District Men’s and Women’s Sportsmanship Awards were awarded to Romeo Matias and Lan Wilhelm. Matias played three years at Kearny High School and led his team to an Eastern League title, competing in USTA, World Team Tennis (WTT) and Gay and Lesbian Tennis Federation (GLTA) Leagues.

“Romeo is not only our sportsman of the year, he does a lot of things to help others in the community.” Lackritz said. “He has also given free clinics to kids and adults once a month for the past 20 years. He also teaches them about camaraderie, sportsmanship, fairness, etiquette and doing the right things.”

Lan Wilhelm is a perfect example of playing tennis for the love of the game. She started her sports experience in her youth playing badminton because she was told she had “weak wrists.” She later transition to tennis and became a good player. Wilhelm is known throughout San Diego because of her participation in many leagues. She brings enthusiasm and joy to the court.

“Win or lose, Lan displays integrity and shows respect for her teammates, opponents and spectators,” Lackritz said. “She has a great sense of humor too. She also has an infectious positive attitude and it is always a pleasure to be on the court with her.”

The award for the District’s Family of the Year went to the Ray Family, including parents Jeff and Felicia, and sons, Ryan and Jake Ray. The family has one of the top father-son teams in Jeff and Ryan. Jeff is also one of the best in age group doubles. Raised in El Centro, Jeff picked up a racket at age 13. He played at Central Union High School, and later, at Imperial Valley College. He was named the Pacific Coast Conference Player of the Year. Jeff has two career interests. The first is being owner of Coastal Pool Care, and in his “spare” time he is the head tennis coach at Madison High School. Ryan, 24, played four years at Clairemont High and was the league champion in singles and doubles. He played for Grossmont College and then finished at NCAA Division II Sul Ross State University in Texas. Jake, 20, played tennis and football at Madison High. He currently attends Mesa College. Mom, Felicia, occasionally plays tennis and is her family’s No. 1 supporter.

The District Club of the Year Award went to Balboa Tennis Club (BTC), which is 96 years-old. It is perhaps the epicenter of the San Diego adult tennis season offering six major tournaments each year including National Opens, the Maureen Connolly Brinker Balboa Open, the San Diego District Championships, San Diego Metropolitan, USTA National Girls 16s and 18s Championships and CIF Boys and Girls Tennis Championships. The club also hosts San Diego TennisFest, Hall of Fame ceremonies, Wound Warrior Camps and Clinics, and free clinics for foster children. Beyond events and logistics, BTC membership is 1,300 players and approximately 6,000 guests visit the 24-court facility each year.

“This is a great honor for Balboa Tennis Club,” said Colleen Ferrell, the Club’s Director. “We work hard to make it one of the finest public facilities in the country and it’s rewarding to get recognition for our efforts. We are not sitting back and waiting for things to happen. We continue to strive for excellence.”

The Tournament of the Year Award was the 73rd Annual San Diego Metropolitan, helmed by tournament director Tony Perez. The event was founded in 1945 and was sponsored by the San Diego Evening Tribune newspaper. It was one of the biggest tennis tournaments in San Diego. Then in 1992, the two San Diego papers merged and the organization opted to end its sponsorship. Hence, the tournament was renamed the San Diego Metropolitan. There was a drop in tennis participation from 2010 to 2015. As a result in 2016, Tony Perez was hired as the tournament director. He was recognized as an organized, experienced and respected member of the tennis community as a Balboa Tennis Club member and a USTA Official. He was determined to grow the tournament back to its original prestige and he succeeded. In two years, he has
increased participation by forty percent.

“Tony works hard to recruit players and upgrade communication,” Ferrell said. “He schedules the matches and pays attention to the small details. That’s what keeps the players coming back.”

Perez is also recognized for being creative with his event programming. He added the often neglected 5.0 Singles and Doubles and 55 Mixed Doubles Divisions. “Tony is always open to new ideas,” Ferrell said.

“He just wants to have great tournaments.”

The District Sponsor of the Year is Squar Milner an accounting and financial planning organization. The firm has done all of the accounting for the Balboa Tennis Club  since 2007. Rick Evans, a partner in their La Jolla office, has been a BTC board member for over a decade. He also served as treasurer and president of Youth Tennis San Diego. Evans, a former ranked junior and adult player, is an exceptional volunteer and is appreciated by the Balboa Tennis Club.

Column and photos by USTA San Diego Tennis Service Representative Karen Ronney, who can be reached at ronney@scta.usta.com.

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