Mr. Tennis of Daytona, Tom Kelly, changes tennis shoes but goes nowhere

If you’ve ever seen Tom Kelly dressed in anything other than tennis gear, you might pass out.

Show of hands. Anybody? Probably not.

Perhaps no one has better championed the noble effort to bring the country-club game to the masses. Tom has done that, and more, for the past 30 years – technically as an employee of the City of Daytona Beach, but essentially as Mr. Tennis in this field.

It began with 10 years on the old courts of City Island, and the last 20 years as manager of the gleaming Florida Tennis Center on LPGA Boulevard, which he has nurtured since birth in the 24-court complex that now thrives and which should require expansion in this area. of the city thickens with active types.

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“It was a skill that I had and it matched an opportunity that was available to me,” he says.

Friday was Tom’s last day. He is 65 after all. But Monday is his day after.

He begins working with the growing DME organization near the airport. DME is expanding its sports footprint to add a tennis component, and Tom will help with the recruiting effort.

“I will help them with an international tennis academy,” he says. “For me, it’s really exciting. The idea would be to recruit from other states, outside of the country, to bring in top players to be part of this all-inclusive academy.

Thomas A. Kelly came to DeLand as a child when his father – Thomas C. Kelly, the name you see on the large DeLand administration building – was hired as Volusia County Manager in the 1970s. anchored the DeLand High tennis team and continued his tennis career at the University of Tulsa.

Burnout came two years later, and he turned his attention to his father’s career.

He worked in the city manager’s office in Fort Lauderdale and didn’t like it – “didn’t like the politics of being in that office and dealing with department heads and their agendas.” The deputy city manager turned friend came up with a crazy idea that changed everything.

Tom Kelly

“He said, ‘Tom, let’s quit our jobs and go on a trip. That’s what I did. Travel around the world for a year. I returned home, spent a few months in Florida, and decided to travel through Latin America again. Disappeared two more years.

When he came home to settle down, Owen Davidson was Daytona Beach’s director of parks and recreation, as well as a tennis lifer who was practically born with a racquet in his hand.

“I got a job as a court assistant on City Island,” Tom says. “I got involved in the coaching aspect, and it went from there.”

The “training aspect” didn’t come as naturally as Tom’s playing ability.

“After college, I had a friend in Fort Lauderdale who was a teaching professional,” he says. “It looked like he was struggling, so I paid for a few lessons. The things he taught me just blew my mind. I could play, but part of the technique was missing.

“It was my first taste of what a tennis pro can do for someone’s game. It’s sort of the genesis of my career as a tennis pro.

The Florida Tennis Center, when it opened 20 years ago, became an instant draw, bringing local players — and visitors — to the clay courts on the city’s west side before the regular net became a flood of residents from the west side.

“We started with six courts, now we have 24,” he says. “We started from scratch, maybe a hundred people when we started. Now we are close to 500 members, junior players and regular guests playing here. And one of the things I’m most proud of is the women’s pro tournament we have here – it’s in its ninth year.

“I couldn’t be happier with my time here at the Tennis Center. The junior program is exploding. We have more members. Great programs here all year round. With the area around us exploding in growth, it won’t make I have the impression to leave with the establishment well placed.

Local tennis has never had a better ambassador than Tom Kelly, and alongside his new duties as DME he plans to refocus his efforts on a ‘back to the future’.

“At one point City Island had six courts, but we had 20 teams coming out of there and playing in local leagues,” he says, looking back 20 to 30 years. “We had a junior program. Classes on weekends. It was going really well.

He thinks the local municipal courts can come back to such things.

“When I leave today, I want to try to help the area reinvigorate places like City Island. I think there are a lot of municipal facilities and county facilities, where there aren’t I would like to see if I can change that.

— Contact Ken Willis at [email protected]

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