Mundelein, Illinois, resident Kevin Minor was more than just a suburban dad with a sharp, analytical mind and a deep devotion to his wife and three daughters, who were NCAA Division 1 college tennis players. He was also a respected mentor in the local tennis community who tried to expand access to tennis for underprivileged youth interested in playing competitively.
When the Indianapolis native died suddenly last month at age 54, his wife, Michelle, and daughters Kristina, Jasmine and Brienne said they instantly knew how to honor his legacy while carrying on the work he did as a member of the Chicago District Tennis Association. A GoFundMe raised $10,000 in half a day, rising to $25,000 after two days.
The family’s plan is to pay the expenses of young players who cannot afford the mounting cost of having a tennis coach or traveling to tournaments across the country. The family hopes to create an endowment or scholarship fund to aid young tennis players.
Tennis had been a staple in Black middle-class households going back to the late 19th century, but rising costs have made it tenable.
A 2015 article in Bloomberg estimated the annual cost of attending tournaments and equipment at about $40,000. This was before the pandemic made open space more valuable and the rising costs of travel.
“It’s a very expensive sport, even if you’re from an affluent background,” said Minor’s wife, Michelle, an auditor in the automotive industry. Her husband, having earned a degree in computer and electrical engineering, worked at Motorola for 30 years, according to his family.
The scholarship idea has been a labor of love for Michelle Minor and her daughters, who used tennis to reach their goals academically and professionally. The eldest daughter, Kristina, is an associate athletic director at Northwestern University, while Jasmine is an Emmy Award-winning television reporter in Indianapolis. Brienne won the NCAA Division I Women’s Tennis Championships in 2017, becoming the first Black woman to win the singles title.
Although Kevin Minor was an avid fan of the sport, his family said he wasn’t an overbearing sports parent who stressed winning over everything else. He mostly supported his daughters from him, only acting as a coach in a few instances.
“I never really saw him as a ‘King Richard’ type,” said Kristina Minor, referring to the Academy Award-winning film starring Will Smith as the father and coach of Venus and Serena Williams. Minor left the coaching to his daughter’s coach while showing support from the stands.
“For the most part, I think he tried to strike a healthy balance between ‘I’m here to support and coach when needed,’ but also not to be a helicopter (parent),” Kristina Minor added. “He was whatever I needed, whenever I needed it. It was never a fear of, ‘if I lose, he’s going to be mad.’ He was just so proud that I wanted to keep making him proud.”
Friends and colleagues of Kevin Minor said he was a role model in Chicago’s tennis community; a shining example of how to raise competitive, well-adjusted children; and an indispensable tennis dad who could usher new parents into the fold of travel league sports and tutor them in the ways of affordably transporting their children to tournaments.
“One of the things that Kevin was really involved with was the other parents,” his wife recalled. “When everybody started out, everybody’s trying to figure out what tournaments do you need to go to and what kind of hotels do you get? Do you drive? Do you fly? Everybody was trying to (figure out) what’s the best way to get our kids to the tournament so that the coaches could see them.”
Midwestern players are at a disadvantage, as they only have spring through fall to play outdoors and must bear the costs of playing indoors. Travel is also an essential part of competitive tennis, as players are building up their ranks to receive invitations to important contests.
“That was kind of his focus. How can we make it easier for kids to have access to be able to get to those tournaments where the college coaches will see them,” Michelle Minor said.
Veteran tennis coach Mark Bey called Kevin Minor an uncommon man who somehow found a way to lend a hand despite the demands of his busy life. “He took care of his own business at work, as a family man, at church and all of the tennis committees he was on and still had time to help others,” said Bey, whose clients over his 32-year career included all of Minor’s daughters. “The guy had a capacity for helping and serving others that is… more than abnormal — it’s kind of a unicorn type of behavior of giving.”
Tennis had been a passion for both Michelle Minor and Kevin Minor, who each played tennis in high school. Coincidentally, both Kevin and Michelle’s father played tennis while attending Purdue University. “Me and my sisters played in high school. We didn’t have the money to play a lot of tournaments, to get training and that type of thing.”
But the couple had a plan about carefully ushering their daughters into extracurricular activities and left the choice to them. “One of the things that we wanted our kids to do was to have a passion for something other than academics because we knew that academics would always be important but we wanted something that, when they woke up in the morning that it was important to them to work at it and not something where we had to push them,” Michelle said.
In a statement, the CDTA called Kevin Minor “an invaluable member of the CDTA board” who was president for a year, in 2015. “He was a strong advocate for junior players in the Chicago district, wanting to help give them opportunities to enrich their own lives through the camaraderie and community that came from competition on the junior tennis circuit. His family of him ‘s creation of the scholarship fund is a powerful continuation of his spirit of him in the Chicago tennis community. ”
“I cannot begin to estimate the number of hours Kevin spent contributing work not only to our organization but to other families who were navigating junior tennis themselves. His untimely death of him leaves a huge void, ”CDTA Executive Director Jill Siegel told the Tribune in an email.
Kristina Minor said her family was overcome by the generosity of people who donated $10,000 in less than 12 hours. She learned of all the people her father de ella had strongly affected during the funeral. She said she spoke to people who said her dad de ella tutored them, helped them with computer tech issues, or received advice or guidance.
“I always knew what he did for me and my family, and I guess I never really was tracking on the fact that he was the same way with everybody. The pace at which the GoFundMe is going and just the incredible outpouring of support and love and condolences… is a testament to that.”