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Women's History Month: Kelly Gaines, Executive Director, USTA North Carolina

Updated: Mar 23, 2021

Kelly Gaines & Karen Rembert

“Kelly Gaines is the perfect representation of tennis in North Carolina,” said Karen Rembert, teaching pro at Raleigh Racquet Club and Kelly’s dear friend. “She works tirelessly to promote the game of tennis. Her passion for our sport, her dedication to her job, and her willingness to work all hours of the day, night, or weekend are unmatched. My first job was working for Kelly and she showed by example that there was no substitute for a good work ethic, strong family values, and leading by example, not just words. North Carolina is truly lucky to have her leading the way.”

You’re right, Karen, lucky for us! And lucky for us that someone asked Kelly to play tennis one summer day when she was just a young girl. She was athletic and always up for playing any sport in her neighborhood. That summer, in her hometown of Burlington, NC, she happened to come across two brothers down the street from her who were hitting tennis balls in their cul de sac. She had a racquet in her garage, so she grabbed it and headed down the street to ask if she could play with them. They said yes! Their mom, who was an active player, stuck her head out the door and said, "Kelly, you want to go hit with us on a tennis court at the park tomorrow?" Well, yes, of course! After just one hit, Kelly knew she had found her sport.

Kelly graduated from college from William Peace University in 1984. At that time, she was sure about two things: she wanted to teach tennis and she wanted to live in Raleigh. She got the chance at both.

In March of 1985, Kelly was hired as the Head Tennis Pro at North Hills Club. “They took a chance on a woman, first of all, and a young one at that,” Kelly remembers. After three years at the North Hills Club, she got the incredible opportunity to coach the NC State Women’s Tennis Team. Kelly coached there for eight years and then became the Executive Director for USTA North Carolina, where she still is today.

When Kelly first started teaching tennis in Raleigh, Cy King, Raleigh Tennis legend and former City of Raleigh Director of Tennis, was the first person she talked to. In fact, “he was the first person any new pro talked to when they got to town,” said Kelly, “he organized us.”

When asked about the impact Kelly has had on tennis in Raleigh, and beyond, Cy has nothing but admiration for her, “Kelly has dedicated her life to tennis. She fell in love with the game as a junior growing up in Burlington. Kelly has become one of the most influential tennis leaders in North Carolina, the nine-state Southern Section of the USTA, and also at the National level. Tennis in Raleigh, tennis in North Carolina, and tennis, in general, have been immeasurably impacted by the many contributions that Kelly Gaines has made to the sport of tennis.”

When speaking of the Raleigh Tennis Community, Kelly thinks of the city as a “viable tennis town” with strong support from the local clubs such as Raleigh Racquet Club, North Hills Club, and Seven Oaks. “Raleigh is just a great place to live, work, and play!” Play tennis, that is!

Tennis has had a strong impact on Kelly both on and off the court. But it isn’t the sport specifically — it’s the people she’s met along the way. “The people that I have gotten to know and are in my life from the beginning because of tennis are what makes my life so rich!”

So what is it she loves so much about tennis? Well, the people for sure. But besides the people...she still loves the feeling of running to a ball and the feel of the strings on her racquet.

So do we, Kelly!

Photos of Kelly and those that have made an impact on her life and made "her life so rich."

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