Big night for tennis stars

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Tennis Southland operations manager Jo Grimwood with Peter White's wife Melissa Chilton and daughter Emma White, who presented the Peter White Up & Coming Junior Player award. Photo: Luisa Girao

TOP tennis talent was celebrated and tributes were paid to a local legend of the sport, Peter White, at the Southland Tennis Awards in Invercargill on Sunday.

More than 30 junior and senior Southland tennis players and Tennis Southland’s top volunteer received trophies at the awards held at the Ascot Park Hotel.

The awards were bittersweet because White, who coached and mentored thousands of tennis players during his 27-year Southland coaching career, died of motor neurone disease a month before he could accept a special award.

Instead, his wife, Melissa Chilton and daughter, Emma White, accepted the Tennis Southland Lifetime Membership award.

On accepting the award, Mrs Chilton talked about her husband’s love of coaching and said, “It broke his heart” when he had to stop in February due to ill health.

Tennis Southland board member and player Kelvin Wilson said he would miss having White sideline in his trademark baggy trackies and jandals

“He made time for everyone and he would help anyone,” Wilson said.

White’s impressive legacy included developing and coaching some of Southland’s finest tennis players to national finals, drumming up funding for the game, and for securing hosting the rights for Invercargill’s three Davis Cups ties.

Tennis Southland operations manager Jo Grimwood said White’s philosophy was about nurturing and developing junior players because he understood the future of Southland tennis was reliant on a strong grassroots base.

A video tribute was played during the awards with White’s music as the soundtrack. His young students talked about what made their ‘‘hugely positive’’ coach special.

They spoke about how he made tennis fun, was kind and also cared about their lives off the court.

During the event, Emma also presented a new award, the Peter White Up & Coming Junior Player of the Year, which was gifted by her and her mother to Tennis Southland in her father’s memory.

Award recipient, 10-year-old Alice Henderson, of Winton Tennis Club, made the Southland tennis team last year only two months after being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.

Lois Heads, of Edendale Tennis Club, who had been involved with the sport for almost 30 years, was awarded the Joyce Telford Volunteer of the Year Award.

Gore junior player Penny Nicholson, took home a trophy haul, including the most consistent junior tennis accolade.

Invercargill tennis star Halle Faherty was named both the top performing junior and open female tennis player of the year.

While Te Anau tennis stars Sky Lovill was named top open male tennis player of the year, and Tim Willans was awarded top male junior of the year.

Veteran players Wendy Hopcroft, from Waikaia/Wendonside club, and Craig Collins, from Balfour Tennis Club, were also acknowledged for their strong form throughout the season.

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