Jeff Gray: Exemplary Coach and Top USTA Volunteer
Even Jeff Gray doesn’t think it’s possible that he has been involved in the sport of tennis for almost 50 years.
Born in Houston, Texas, but being the son of a Shell Oil Company employee and part of a family that moved frequently in the 1940s and 1950s, Gray didn’t play organized sports outside of youth baseball. When he was set to leave for college at the age of 18, a neighbor gave him a used tennis racquet as a gift, and his life changed forever.
“(I ended) up playing daily in college,” stated Gray. “I played three years of college tennis and played on the first tennis team for the University of West Florida.”
That set the wheels in motion to be a tennis “lifer” and for soft-spoken Gray to give back in so many ways to the sport he loved. It also included a move to USTA Southern as he entered graduate school and was named the Assistant Tennis Coach at Middle Tennessee State University. Following his graduation in Murfreesboro, Gray took the position of head pro at the newly established Pensacola Racket Club. The next year he moved to Mobile and began a stint as a pro at Mirror Lake Racquet Club.
Gray would put down roots in Mobile, as he has been employed for 35 years and counting as Director of Tennis at the Country Club of Mobile.
While the tennis community is known for volunteering and lending a helping hand, Gray has been a leader in giving back. For USTA Alabama, he has been past Chair of both the Junior and Adult Ranking committees. He served as State President in 1978 and was Captain of the Senior Cup Team and currently is Chair of the USTA Alabama Hall of Fame Selection Committee.
At the section level, he has been Chairman of the USTA Southern Junior Ranking Committee and served two stints as a member and one as chair of the Nominating Committee. Gray served admirably as President of USTA Southern in 2005-2006 as well as a Delegate as Large on the Board of Directors, a member of the Executive Committee and chair of the Grievance Council.
USTA even called upon Gray to serve as Vice Chairman of the Adult/Senior Competition Committee from 2005-06, a Delegate from USTA Southern in 2007-08 and a member of the Sectional President’s Committee in 2005-06.
For many, Gray is best known for his relief work when Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005. Serving as USTA Southern President, Gray brought the affected states together with the Southern Tennis Patrons Foundation and the USTA tennis family to raise over $1,100,000. The donated funds not only rebuilt facilities, but also assisted displaced tennis professionals and restarted adult and junior USTA programs at new or alternate sites.
As a player, Gray has been ranked No. 1 in Alabama in various age groups. He won the USTA Southern Senior Open and Closed in both singles and doubles in addition to the 45s USPTA National Doubles Championships in 1991.
“Probably the highlight of my playing career was playing on the winning Alabama Senior Cup and Intersectional teams,” explained Gray. “But it was very special to win the Country Club of Mobile Labor Day Professional Doubles in 1989.” This is an annual event and one of the most prestigious events in the South.
A distinguished member of the USPTA and Professional Tennis Registry, Gray is no stranger to Hall of Fame inductions. He is in the Mobile Tennis Hall of Fame, the University of West Florida Athletic Hall of Fame and the USTA Alabama Hall of Fame. He is a two-time winner of both the USPTA Southern Pro of the Year and USTA Alabama Pro of the Year Awards. He was also presented with the Jacobs Bowl, for his dedication to the game in 2006, by USTA Southern as well as the “Pride of the South” award from the USPTA Southern Division.
Like many other coaches and proponents of lifetime and youth sports, Gray realizes there are challenges that lie ahead with the current generation and generations to come, but he is seeing a payoff reflected in the growing usage of courts at the Country Club of Mobile. Since he started keeping figures 25 years ago, he’s seen a plateau of about 2,000 players a month (for all courts) increase to more than 3,300 players per month. Gray has set a goal of being eco-friendly and making the best use of natural resources.
“I’d put our courts up against anybody’s. They’re the prettiest clay courts you’ve ever seen,” says Gray. “Even better, they require less maintenance—always a headache with clay courts—and use one-third the amount of water that the courts were consuming before the system was installed. More play and less water is a win-win.”
Jeff Gray, Alabama, 2017
- USTA Southern President from 2005-06 and Delegate at Large on USTA Southern Board of Directors
- Member of the first tennis team for the University of West Florida
- Inducted into Mobile Tennis Hall of Fame, University of West Florida Athletic Hall of Fame and USTA Alabama Hall of Fame
- USTA Alabama State President in 1978 and served as Captain of the men’s Senior Cup Team for many years
- USTA Vice Chairman of the Adult/Senior Competition Committee 2005-06
- United States Professional Teaching Association, and the Professional Tennis Registry member and former Chairman of the Hall of Fame Committee for USPTA Southern
- Assistant Tennis Coach for Middle Tennessee State University
- Two-time winner of USPTA Southern Pro of the Year Award