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Gabriella Zurita

Frisco, Texas



Tennis demands focus. Hindrance calls are put in place to stop loud crowds and loose balls from interrupting a match. However, I find the worst disturbances are not caused by other people. Instead, it's my negativity after I miss a shot. Or doubt creeping in after losing a crucial game. My mind would get distracted by these thoughts and turn my focus away from the court. I soon realized the only way to succeed was to grow a positive mentality. Letting myself dwell distracted me from what mattered: the next point ahead. I often forget how much tennis has taught me. Discovering Zina Garrison's story inspired me to continue growing as a player, even when it's hard. Garrison is a Juniors Champion, Olympic Gold Medalist, and Texas Tennis Hall of Fame member. Though, her path to greatness was not easy. Garrison grew up in Houston with her widowed mother, grandmother, and six other children in the house. After discovering a local tennis program, she fell in love with the sport and quickly climbed the ranks. As she gained attention, her mother tragically died, leading her to develop bulimia to cope. Furthermore, she was discriminated against and criticized for being a Black woman in an all-white sport. With all this happening at once, Garrison could have easily given into her hardships and abandoned her passions. Instead, she chose to use tennis as an escape and continued striving toward her goals. Her story of resilience reminded me of how crucial a sport can be for one's mental health with my own story. At the beginning of high school, I faced a series of hardships following my parents' divorce and my father's diagnosis of depression. My home life had turned into an emotional circus; there was yelling, crying, and fighting every day. I was in a constant state of stress with little support. But around this time was when I discovered OT Tennis Academy. My mental health was declining, and I looked forward to practicing just to get away from my family. However, the more I went, I realized my motivations changed. I went to practice because I wanted to improve as a player, compete with my friends, and seek knowledge from my coaches. Joining the academy helped me discover my passion for tennis and give my energy to the sport rather than stress. Since then, tennis has helped me find a community and stay focused on my dreams. Now that my high school years have come to an end, I thought my tennis career was, too. Nevertheless, Garrison's story of resilience and passion made me realize that tennis has played a major role in my happiness and health. I am not ready to give up the sport that I love which has helped me through so much. Now entering college, I plan on joining the club team to help me find a new community of players. I know that while this new chapter may be difficult, tennis will have my back.

Brody Roche

Frisco, Texas

Second Place


It’s not every day that I get the chance to brag about this man. He’s the answer to every “who do you look up to” and “who inspires you the most” questions I get asked. He is the wisest, most patient and hardworking man that I know, and five years ago he was inducted into the Texas Tennis Museum and Hall of Fame. My grandfather, Tommy Connell, not just inspires me to play tennis, but encourages me to be the kind of man he is while doing so, and I would be satisfied in accomplishing just a fraction of what he’s done.


My family has a strong belief of going all in for whatever we intend to do. Whether it’s school, electives, or even simple hobbies, we are taught to do the best that we can in all areas, which my grandfather is a perfect example of. Lettering in tennis for all four year in college, being the tennis director at multiple facilities, serving in multiple areas of USPTA Texas Division for well over a decade, and even going out of the country to play and teach is the most effort I’ve ever seen produced by one man. I’ve just now finished high school, and I couldn’t be more excited for whatever may come next because of how much my grandfather was able to do, not just during college, but all the years after it as well.


The amount of time and effort he decided to put into playing and teaching tennis is astounding, but what’s more amazing is what he was able to do with it. My grandfather is a strong believer in Christ, which is another area where I look up to him strongly, and it is incredible how much he was able to share and serve through tennis. Whether it was mission trips in Africa or giving lessons here in Texas, he was being a picture of Christ at all times. He was like that outside of tennis as well, but the number of people he reached and all the opportunities he had been given and used through the sport is what encourages me to do the same. I know that even if my grandfather didn’t focus on tennis, he still would have been as accomplished and as godly as he is now through whatever he decided to do.


The best part about my grandfather is that I never truly knew about all that he did until he was inducted. He never once bragged about all that he had done. He never showed off any trophies or medals. He never completely destroyed me or my siblings at tennis even though he had the full capability to do so. He was and is humble. He never focused on his accomplishments, only the accomplishments of God and what He was able to do through him. I can only hope to become the kind of man that he is one day, but thankfully he is the encouragement that I need.


Cherish Dunlop

Utopia, Texas

Third Place


“Love the life you live and live the life you love,” is considered a cliche quote usually found on novelty bumper stickers or tattoos. However, this quote depicts a simple vision for how to live a life well spent. Dr. Shelby Torrance lived out a beautiful example of what it means to live life to the fullest as she pursued her passions and hobbies in a way that brought others and herself joy throughout her career. After obtaining multiple higher educational degrees, including a Doctorate of Education, Dr. Shelby Torrance was inducted into the Texas Tennis Hall of Fame in 1990 in honor of her support and enthusiasm for the sport.


Torrance began her affinity for tennis as a young girl when she won the Texas 4A Girls Singles State Championship. She went on to become the coordinator for Health Education at Del Mar College in 1950 and coached the Del Mar mens and womens tennis team. She became the USPTA Director at the HEB Tennis Center in Victoria, Texas before she was director at the Kruse Tennis Center in Corpus Christi. In 1975, Torrance impacted history when she became the first woman to serve as a Chairman of the Officiating Committee for the NCAA National Men's Tennis Championships. Torrance devoted her life and career to tennis because it was her passion, and she believed that it was worth investing in. She cared about health and believed tennis to be one of the most beneficial life time sports.


Her many awards and accolades speak for themselves, but most inspiring was her lifetime commitment to her passion. I hope to live a life like Dr. Shelby Torrance did as I pursue my passions wholeheartedly. I plan to pursue higher education at Texas Tech University as I first major in kinesiology for my bachelors in preparation for graduate school for occupational therapy. Like Torrance, I am passionate about physical health, which is why I want to study kinesiology. While I am in college, I plan to play intramural tennis. In high school I was a 1A state qualifier in mixed doubles and won the 1A Mixed Doubles State Championship this year as a senior. Although I am proud of these accomplishments, I play tennis because it is something I plan to enjoy for my entire life as I prioritize my physical health.


As coordinator for Health Education at Del Mar College, Dr. Shelby Torrance used her passion for physical health to help others. Someday, I plan to do the same as an occupational therapist. I hope to help people in my career reach their physical goals and equip them to pursue their passions. I hope to live a life I love and help others do the same as I continue to devote my time and efforts to things I believe in such as the importance of education, physical health, and helping people. Dr. Shelby Torrance spent her life in devotion to these three things as she committed herself to promoting tennis and her legacy remains an inspiration to myself and others.

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