The Zephyhills City Council has voted unanimously the proposal to name the new tennis center after its former high school and college tennis star tragically deceased in 2015 in a car accident. To understand the vision behind the tennis center and foundation, it is important to know more about Sarah and especially her love of tennis and her competitive spirit.
A way of life
The first thing you noticed when you saw Sarah Vande Berg on the tennis court was the intense look in her eyes. She watched the ball coming off her racquet with quiet resolve as her two-handed back hand swept across her body and whipped forward. Then, you noticed her height and the blond ponytail swirling behind her as she moved around the court with powerful ground strokes connecting with the ball, hurtling it over the net.
Tennis was a way of life for the Vande Berg family, and Sarah in particular. Her father, Todd, is an avid tennis player and encouraged Sarah to pick up a racquet at the age of six years old. She received her first lessons while attending vacation bible school just one block from the tennis courts in Zephyrhills, Florida. With her father’s interest and her natural athletic talent, Sarah went from novice to high school player to district champion and statewide competitor. Those attributes earned her a tennis scholarship to the University of South Carolina Upstate Spartans. A veteran player by the time she reached high school, Sarah was the tennis team captain at Zephyrhills High School as well as the All-Sunshine Athletic Conference pick through four years at ZHS. She helped lead the Bulldogs to district championships in 2010 and 2012 and individually qualified for the Florida state tennis tournament three times in singles and twice in doubles.
Not only a great tennis player
A communications major at USC Upstate, Sarah was an outgoing student and supported other team sports at their matches and meets. Sarah’s teammates were all from other countries and was cognizant that they would be homesick during holidays. She regularly brought international teammates to her home for Thanksgiving and other holidays to introduce them to American traditions and customs.
Sadly, though, all that intensity, friendliness, warmth and passion was lost in a single car crash in Spartanburg, S.C. on October 11, 2015. Sarah, along with three other Upstate athletes were killed when their car left the roadway, striking a tree. She was 21 and just months from graduating with her degree in communications and returning to Florida. Talk to her parents, Todd and Charla, her sister Emily, or her legions of friends in Florida and South Carolina, and they will tell you of her love of tennis, of competition and of people. Todd speaks of her love of sports and of people. “She was a wonderful daughter,” he said, “she had an outgoing personality and she truly loved people.
Genesis of an idea
Determined to keep her memory alive and to use her story to help other young tennis players, a local developer David Warronker came up with the idea to construct a bigger and better tennis facility in Zephyrhills. Reaching out to the USTA, to a Station appropriation and area tennis enthusiasts, the Zephyrhills Tennis Center is currently under design on 8.25 acres of land.
In June, the Zephyrhills City Council unanimously named the Center after Sarah. The tennis facility will serve multiple purposes in the Zephyrhills and the West Central Florida Region . It is the only planned tennis center of its kind, with training courts for young players, hitting walls, clay and hard courts, an exhibition court and fitness center.
The Tennis Center will offer community tennis opportunities such as: lessons, leagues, tennis socials, tournaments, high school and college competitions. The Sarah Vande Berg Tennis Center will celebrate not only the spirit of tennis as lived by one of the sport’s most ardent supporters, but will become a vibrant celebration of the game itself, and how tennis captivated a young girl with a gleam in her eyes and a two-handed backhand that carried an entire community along with her.