TENNIS: O'Brien, Love win state USTA awards (10/13)

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By Ryan O'Gara

Bo O’Brien was on vacation last week in Florida when he received an exciting phone call from Bob Love.

Love informed O’Brien that the duo – two fixtures around the area tennis scene – was recognized for contributions to the sport by the USTA Kentucky. O’Brien was selected as Volunteer of the Year and Love was chosen as the Junior Team Tennis Coordinator of the Year.

The Elizabethtown Tennis Commission earned the Member Organization/Community Tennis Association of the Year award and Brett Atcher, who played high school tennis at Elizabethtown and now is a tennis pro at Lexington Tennis Club, was selected as the Professional of the Year.

There were 21 awards in all. The winners will be recognized at the awards luncheon at noon Oct. 26 at the Galt House in Louisville.

“To me, it’s much more important that Bo gets that award,” Love said. “That’s huge. He is so deserving and is as passionate as I am. We’re both nuts – you should hear our conversations, they’re crazy. We dream stuff and we’re not afraid to do it.”

A member of the tennis commission for 10 years, O’Brien organizes adult leagues, youth lessons and tournaments. This summer, the newly formed courts at Freeman Lake Park hosted the Elizabethtown Youth Tournament in June, the State Farm E’town Open in July and the EtownApartments.com Heartland Shootout in August, all of which O’Brien was in charge of.

O’Brien was grateful of being recognized and was also quick to credit his wife, Kathy, for helping so much as well.

“It’s a great honor and I appreciate that,” O’Brien said. “It’s something I got into doing a few years ago, kind of like a hobby job. Kathy has had a big part in what we do, too. She is on the commission and is always helping. It should say Bo and Kathy (on the award).”

Love assembled 13 junior tennis teams in 2010. In 2013, he oversaw nine teams with 71 players from eight counties as the Lightning (18-under advanced) and Thunder (18-under intermediate) each claimed state championships this summer. Central Hardin senior Emily Novak played for the Lightning and Elizabethtown senior Natalie Fiepke and John Hardin senior Tyler Edlin played for the Thunder. Elizabethtown native Mary Elaine Kuo was a member of the Lightning as well.

Helping kids improve their tennis skills and promoting the sport in the area are the main reasons Love puts in so much time and energy into running the program.

“I want the kids to stay excited about tennis and one of the ways to get them to stay excited is to put out the pictures, keep their names in the paper and let them know you care about them,” Love said. “That’s where the energy comes from.”

Love said none of it would be possible without the kids and their parents, who donate their time to ensure their children have the opportunity to improve and have fun.

“The key to success with JTT is the parents,” Love said. “I have to get parents to be captains, bring their kids to matches and to communicate with all of the players. I found some spectacular parents, some unbelievably great parents. I think because of them, the 2014 JTT program will be really cool. Because now, we know what we’re doing and kids know what JTT is. We’ve gotten a lot of kids involved and they really liked it.”

In addition to Bo and Kathy, commission members include Julia Workman, Susan Simmons, Keith Barnes, Elizabethtown coach Karen Henson, Central Hardin coach Eric Mitchell and former John Hardin coach Spence Baldwin, who recently moved to Missouri.

“We’re lucky we have people who want to do stuff,” O’Brien said. “If you have people who want to do it and it’s organized, they’ll do it. Tennis around E’town has really grown in the last 10 years. The fact they built a facility is a good sign, and the best sign is that it’s always busy.”

Atcher, who was on the 2000 region championship team, is ranked second in Southern men’s open doubles. His mom, Andrea, coached the Elizabethtown tennis teams for 10 seasons before retiring in 2009. She led the Panthers to eight consecutive region tournament titles from 2000-07 and the Lady Panthers to seven straight region crowns from 2003-09. His father, Bruce, also coached for Elizabethtown.

O’Brien and Love both celebrated birthdays recently; Love turned 73 on Tuesday and O’Brien turned 66 on Saturday.

O’Brien said being so involved goes a long way in maintaining his youth.

“I’m of the nature you should give back to the community and this is how I do it,” O’Brien said. “I enjoy doing it. It really keeps you young.”

Ryan O’Gara can be reached at 270-505-1754 or rogara@thenewsenterprise.com.