The Sullivan Family
It’s a bright, sunny afternoon at four o’clock. I drive into the parking lot near the tennis courts at the corner of West Village and South Village. There they are...as promised...Heather Sullivan and her three blonde offspring, practicing their game, as they do for some twenty hours a week.
I have been tipped off to the Sullivans by Dick Woltman, who was willing to play tennis with the kids early on, and admires their skill and dedication. Since the courts are their second home, it seems logical to sit here and hear their story, as I watch them play. They have brought along their new puppy, Georgia, a tiny, precious half Cocker/ half miniature Pinscher, so we watch her antics, too.
Mom Heather, a South Carolina girl and graduate of William and Mary College, was teaching in Connecticut when she met Dad Jim, a native of that state who went to Fairfield College and was in the insurance business. They married, produced three good-looking children and moved to Florida along the way.
Heather says the real estate agent knew she was a runner, and just "happened to" drive her on a house hunt through Carrollwood Village on a Wednesday night, when a running club used to run through here. That’s how they came to live in the spacious house on Carrollwood Village Drive. Now all of the kids are runners, in addition to their primary sport of tennis.
Meghan, 16, plays Number One on the Tampa Catholic team, which advanced to the semi-finals of State last year. She was named MVP of the team. She’s a straight A student, a hard worker. She is interested in both Furman University and Georgetown.
Kelly, 14, goes to St. Laurence Catholic School, and is very committed. She’s 16th in the State in Girls 14 tennis, 39th in the country in head-to-head competition. Duke University is the school that lights up her face.
Jamie, also a St. Lawrence student, has "a lot of God-given talent." He plays golf, soccer, and basketball, in addition to track. He is also the "factoid kid", according to his Mom, and helped tell the story.
Dad Jim is "incredibly supportive", but didn’t grow up playing tennis, as Heather did. He prefers to play golf, taking Jamie along. Through the years Jim has coached, however,"whatever the kids were playing."
The Sullivan youngsters started taking tennis lessons from Steve Smith, at Carrollwood Village G&TC. They now belong to both Northdale and Emerald Greens Country Clubs, but train at Northdale. Their teacher Chris Cary, is an outstanding technician. They also have a family friend,"a fabulous coach", who schools them in strategy and mental toughness.
They are certainly a pleasant, happy group of young people, mannerly and well-spoken, seemingly unimpressed with themselves. Heather is glad that she and Jim made the early decision that she’d be a stay-home Mom, although "I don’t get to spend much time at home," what with driving three kids to all their activities.
Asked what she does just for herself, she opines that other than working out and "going to George’s for coffee", she feels that when she does something for her family, she does it for herself. She and Jim have encouraged their children to volunteer, Meghan and Kelly at the YMCA. And the Sullivans were part of a project to find sponsors for 49 orphans in Burundi. They are happy to say that there was such an out-pouring of support that the group was able to buy such basics as a cistern for drinking water in the village.
Asked what her family does for fun, Heather responds that they like to have friends over for dinner. Their travel is mainly tennis-related. They’ve made many friends through tennis, so they all stay in the same hotels and share meals together. When I ask how expensive tennis is, Heather smiles,"as expensive as you make it." Her kids benefit from having one another to train and practice with. They are sponsored by Dunlop, who provides their equipment.