By Larry Leeds
Last week the Cary Leeds Center for Tennis & Learning officially opened with a ribbon cutting ceremony in Crotona Park. The $26.5 million state of the art sports and education center will touch the lives of an estimated 30,000 South Bronx students in one of the poorest Congressional districts in the United States. As Bronx residents visit the Center for the first time, they may wonder, ‘Who was Cary Leeds?’
Cary was a star tennis player, and a graceful, charismatic, and attractive young man. He was once voted the most handsome male player on the professional circuit. He played tennis for Yale, competed in six US Opens and five Wimbledon championships, and at the height of his career, was the 12th ranked doubles player in the world. After he left the circuit, he continued to play tennis and was ranked number two in the nation in the over forty singles classification. He spent the rest of his life fluctuating between business and teaching young players the game of tennis before passing away in 2003 at age 45.
Cary was also my son. It is sad day when parents out live their progeny, and thus it was with my wife Dalia and myself. In the years since Cary’s passing, Dalia and I developed a strong desire – which became a passion – to make sure that our son’s life would be remembered in a way that would make the world a better place.
New York Junior Tennis League (NYJTL) co-founder Skip Hartman, who helped coach Cary at age thirteen, had the idea that we build The Cary Leeds Center. NYJTL, now known as New York Junior Tennis & Learning, has a mission focused on children, tennis, and education – three areas that were central to Cary’s life. NYJTL is uniquely qualified to manage the Center’s programming under the guidance of President and CEO Deborah Antoine, herself a fine tennis player.
The completion of the Cary Leeds Center marks the culmination of a decade-long intensive effort. The fundraising has been a public-private endeavor with over 530 private donors whose individual contributions ranged from one hundred dollars to several millions of dollars. The Mayor’s Office, the City Council and the Bronx Borough President’s Office contributed mightily to our cause. The project is a testament to the magnificent results that are possible when government and the private sector work together for the common good
Dalia and I were amazed by how many of Cary’s friends rushed to contribute once plans for the Center were announced. These friends joined with our family to strive to memorialize Cary’s life. As a result, thousands of young Bronx residents will benefit from the joint character building experiences of tennis and education. Thus our dream is being fulfilled by these wonderful experiences that so many children will have as a result of Cary’s legacy. If Cary could look down from heaven he would be so very proud and honored.
Also published in the Bronx Times(page 68).