Junior tennis lost a great friend and advocate earlier this month when Tom Pura, father of junior standout TJ Pura and creator of the documentary 50,000 Balls, died suddenly in his home in Los Angeles.
I met Tom through this website, and my first chance to glimpse his generosity, curiosity and passion for junior tennis came at a dinner during the 2005 US Open. Later that year, I began seeing him at junior tournaments with TJ, and we'd exchange many ideas about junior tennis, big and small. Sometimes we would discuss a particular player, other times we would talk about the positive aspects of the sport and what it could and did teach youngsters about growing up. But Tom was a "doer," not a talker, and he began to formulate a plan to express his views on junior tennis through a documentary.
By the next time I saw him, at the 2006 Eddie Herr, the documentary footage was shot, with the bulk of it focusing on the 2006 National 12s Hardcourts in Little Rock, Ark. Tom was addressing the overwhelming prospect of whittling down 65 hours of film into something entertaining and instructive, but with diligence and determination he did so, producing version after version. I spoke with Tom about the documentary in May for the Tennis Recruiting Network, and he kept me apprised of its status as he submitted it to film festivals (it debuted at the Newport International Film Festival at the International Tennis Hall of Fame in June) and received feedback from those who had seen it.
The prospect of distributing the film widely to those who could benefit from its message was the next challenge Tom undertook, and his untimely death has left that part of the project to his wife Sara. When I spoke to her over the weekend, it was clear that she has thrown all her energy into preserving Tom's legacy through this film, and she has been working the past two weekends on wrapping up a "final" cut of the documentary, which she hopes to have available, via the film's website, by the start of the U.S. Open next month.
Tom accomplished much during his too-brief life. His generosity of spirit, his passion, his exuberance and his intelligence will be recalled in many tennis courts, in many places, when watching the seeds planted during junior competition flower into a lifelong love of the game and its lessons.
Contributions to Tom's memory can be made to:
Partnership for After School Education (PASE), 120 Broadway, 2nd Floor, New York, NY 10271 or Harlem Junior Tennis and Education Program, 140 West 143rd Street, New York, NY 10037.
Tuesday, July 29, 2008