Nov. 2, 2011
LEXINGTON, Ky. – Although he never wore the blue and white of Kentucky as a student-athlete or coach, the University of Kentucky men’s tennis program has lost one of its biggest supporters as Herb Kays, the founder of the University of Kentucky men’s tennis booster club, has passed away.
Kays, who was from Louisville, Ky., has been a vital part of the Kentucky men’s tennis program for the past 25-plus years. Kays was the founder of the Advantage Kentucky Tennis Booster Club and served countless hours helping to build the Kentucky tennis program to where it is today. In the spring of 2010, Kays was inducted into the Robert Purnell UK Wildcat Tennis Hall of Fame, becoming the first person who was not a former player or coach to be inducted into the hall of fame.
Fitting to his commitment to the program, Kays’ induction ceremony came before one of the biggest matches in the history of Kentucky tennis when the Wildcats defeated No. 2 Virginia at the Hilary J. Boone Tennis Complex, snapping the Cavaliers’ 63-match regular-season winning streak. After the match, UK head coach Dennis Emery and the men's team dedicated the historic victory to Kays.
“The best way to describe what Herb Kays meant to our program is that he was our version of Bill Keightley,” said Emery, who worked closely with Kays to build not only UK tennis but support for tennis in the state of Kentucky. “He had a great passion for UK football and basketball and attended over 650 consecutive basketball games at one point during his life. But it was tennis, a sport he excelled in personally during senior competition, where he made his biggest impact on a personal level.
“He was such a positive encouragement for our young players. From his start with our program in 1984 when we had the Varga brothers, through the current team and Eric Quigley, he loved the Wildcats in a very special way.”
Kays was an athlete back in his day, playing basketball for Tulane University and lettering for Georgetown College in five different sports. In his later years, Kays was a nationally ranked senior tennis player and won the state of Kentucky left-handed golf championship in 1976. Many will remember Kays as the co-founder of the United State Tennis Association National Indoor Team Championships, which were held in Louisville for 15 years. In all, Kays rose over $500,000 for the UK tennis program and the National Indoor Championships.
“For 15 years we hosted the National Indoors in Louisville and Herb was a huge key to the success of that by raising the sponsorships necessary and getting people out to the event,” Emery said. “That event and our success in it was the foundation for all the future success we have had in our program.
“I wish every coach had the chance to have a Herb Kays type guy in their program. He was someone who is unfailingly positive, always encouraging and always seeing the best in young players. Herb is a great example of the type of person that collegiate athletics produces, who later in life gives so much back to the community.”
Emery said the loss of Kays leaves a void in the men’s tennis program that is impossible to fill. Out of respect for Kays’ family, the Kentucky men’s tennis team did not travel to compete in its fall tournament last weekend.
“Herb was one of those very special people that came into your life once in a lifetime,” Emery said. “Because he was such a good Christian man, he was a unique role model for our players. And because of who he was as a person, his loss leaves an impossible void to fill in our program.”
Kays spent his professional career as a successful dentist in Louisville. Visitation for Kays will be at Pearson’s Funeral Home in Louisville, Ky., on Thursday from 5-7 p.m.