There’s one phrase that comes up over and over again when people talk about Maurica Katz: She cares.
In today’s age, that’s not a little thing.
“If you ask her for anything, she always goes out of her way to help,” says her friend Carrie Cimino, who works for Head Penn Racquet Sports.
Katz and her late husband, Steve, have been fixtures in the southern California tennis scene for more than 30 years. They both loved the sport, and together, they devoted their lives to it.
Thanks to tennis, Katz met her husband, started a business, met celebrities and even worked with President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan. But she’s best known for the work she and Steve did at Poinsettia Park, a public space located in the middle of a residential neighborhood in Los Angeles, bordering on Hollywood.
“They single-handedly have kept Poinsettia Park going for many years,” says Martha Katsufrakis, Junior
Tournaments Coordinator at the Southern California Tennis Association. “Poinsettia Park and the Katzes, the names are synonymous.”
For over 25 years, the Katzes ran the LA84 National Junior Tennis League program for low-income children out of Poinsettia Park. For $10, children could get 24 hours of tennis instruction. There were scholarships available if they couldn’t afford it.
Over the years, the Katzes have taught thousands of children. Many former students have received athletic scholarships, and some have gone pro.
But it was never just about technique or winning. They loved and cared about every child, and became true mentors.
Melanie Bischoff, Director of Community Tennis with the Southern California Tennis Association, remembers children running up to the Katzes at Poinsettia Park and jumping into their arms.
“They just were really heroes in the community, to me. They just did so much and for so many years,” Bischoff said. “They really cared about a good time for these kids, and letting them know that people care about them.”
When Steve died three years ago from throat cancer, a memorial service was held at Poinsettia Park. Many former students showed up to pay tribute.
Maurica continues to work to carry on her late husband’s legacy. She still teaches seven days a week, and after seeing homeless and hungry children in Poinsettia Park, Katz looked into creating a tennis program just for them. She’s currently looking for volunteers for transportation and equipment.
“You see all these sad things that happen and you want to help,” Katz said. “Tennis can change their lives.”
For generations, and for generations to come, tennis has positively impacted the young and old, on and off the court, in countless ways. In this year’s Heroes special, we’ve selected 30 such stories, including a 10-year-old amputee’s life-changing moment with Roger Federer, the rebuilding of a college program after Hurricane Katrina, a former prodigy’s important message as an adult, and a 78-year-old coach’s enduring influence on the pros. Taken together, these 30 stories illustrate how people grow up, grow as individuals and grow old with tennis—the sport of a lifetime. Click here for more Heroes stories.