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The Power of Legacy: Dan Gonzalez

October 1, 2014 04:31 PM
 
 

 

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Story by Doug McPherson/Photo by Barry Gutierrez
This article appeared in the Summer 2014 issue of Colorado Tennis newspaper.

 

Legacies are real. They thrust humans forward with life lessons. They make tangible differences in lives every day. And Colorado tennis players and fans don’t have far to look to find a perfect example of this truth: Dan Gonzalez, a Highlands Ranch tennis instructor and the son of former world number one tennis great Pancho Gonzalez.

Pancho planted the seed of his legacy with Dan in the spring of 1984 after the finals of the Alan King Classic in Las Vegas, Nevada. It was a poignant father-son moment.

“It was the last year I was going to work the tournament and dad sat me down on center court and asked me what my plans were. I didn’t really have a plan and told him that. Then he said this: ‘Danny, I’m 56-years-old, I was the best at what I did, and maybe the best ever, but I’m still learning things in this game. No matter what you do, never stop learning.’”

Not a bad foundation for a legacy.

“The point for me was that he was this man who achieved the highest level of his profession but he still saw he could learn more,” Gonzalez says.  

Not surprisingly, Dan eventually chose to devote his life to tennis. But not just tennis, and not just teaching tennis. But taking what his dad taught him that day and using tennis as a tool to show kids they too should never stop learning and at the same time improve their lives.

Gonzalez says when his dad died in 1995, he “took a hard look” at his life.

“I’d been out of tennis for about 10 years but I’d never stopped playing. In looking back, I came to realize that tennis was so much more than just a game. It could open doors for juniors, help them further their education,” Gonzalez says.

From that point on he wasted little time bringing Pancho’s legacy to life.

In 1996, he took on the co-chair slot of the USTA Intermountain Section Minority Participation Committee to boost diversity outreach and player development programs.  There he helped develop Star Search, a program to identify and nurture tennis skills among minority pre-teens. The program still exists today, now offered by USTA Colorado in partnership with Denver Parks & Recreation.

He also worked with the Breaking the Barriers 2.0 ¡Vive el Tenis! project that celebrates Latino pioneers, contributors and rising stars. This past September, the ¡Vive el Tenis! exhibit from the International Tennis Hall of Fame made its Colorado debut. The exhibit explores the paths of tennis from Europe to United States, Central and South America, Mexico and the Caribbean.

And two years ago, Gonzalez helped start the Richard Pancho Gonzalez Youth Foundation that works to build kids’ academic pursuit and character through tennis.

“I know dad would have loved that we started this foundation,” Gonzalez says. “To share my dad’s story of perseverance, dedication and accomplishments with today’s youth can only show them that dreams can come true. He loved the kids and the game. Dad understood what tennis did for him and to give back was easy for him. Actually, he felt it was a privilege to give back.”

Gonzalez pauses then adds. “You know, being involved over the years with inner cities and minorities, getting into the communities, has been fun and rewarding. I’ve come to learn that to have helped just one kid is rewarding. But to possibly have helped many just feels that much better and you really can’t put a price on that.”

 

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