Larry Leeds and Tommy Hilfiger

TENNIS CHAMPS: Larry Leeds, chairman of Buckingham Capital Management and a philanthropist, and Liezel Huber, Olympian and Grand Slam Champion, received leadership awards at New York Junior Tennis and Learning’s 32nd annual leadership luncheon at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Manhattan on Wednesday.

The Leeds family helped create the $26.5 million Cary Leeds Center for Tennis and Learning at the New York Junior and Tennis and Learning Center in the South Bronx in honor of their late son, Cary, who was a star on Yale’s varsity team in the Seventies and went on to become a world-ranked player and a Wimbledon mixed-doubles semifinalist. Cary Leeds also coached gifted youth. He died in 2003 at the age of 45. The Cary Leeds Center opened in June 2015.

“Larry’s generosity to NYJTL is unsurpassed, from leading the capital campaign to his opening text pledge at this luncheon. Now Larry has offered to match up to $100,000 for contributions made today. All the money will support programs at the Cary Leeds Center,” said John Lloyd, the BBC Commentator and former British Davis Cup captain, who served as master of ceremonies.

Nick Bollettieri, the Hall of Fame coach, presented the award to Huber, the recipient of 57 career WTA doubles titles including seven Grand Slam titles. She serves as the executive director of tennis at The Cary Leeds Center.

Huber thanked her mother for putting a tennis racquet in her hand at five years old and described growing up in South Africa and helping her parents on their farm where they renovated three tennis courts and gave lessons. “We had hundreds of kids come to our house for tennis lessons,” she said. At eight years old, she would give them drinks and collect their fees and tell them their balances. “I came to the U.S. at the age of 15 and my dream was to become the best tennis player I could be,” and she reached number one in the world in doubles. “Growing up, my father instilled in us that you need to make a difference every day,” she said.

Tommy Hilfiger presented his friend Leeds with his award. Hilfiger recalled when they met more than 35 years ago, he was a little envious because Leeds was a partner with Perry Ellis, “who was one of my idols” and Hilfiger considered him to be another Calvin Klein or Ralph Lauren. Hilfiger said it was his dream to aspire to that league and was hoping that maybe Leeds would support him and give him the same opportunity.

Instead, they became dear friends and Leeds became like a second father and best friend. They started playing tennis together and what Hilfiger thought would be a social Saturday morning tennis game became a very competitive situation. “He’s a few years older and has continued to beat me. My aspiration now is to someday beat him on the court,” said Hilfiger. “Time is on your side,” called out Leeds.

Hilfiger was a “six-figure giver to the Hilfiger court at the Cary Leeds Center,” pointed out Leeds.

Leeds said he and his late wife, Dalia, “really wanted to do something that would give meaning to his [Cary’s] life and make the world a better place for the fact that he was here.” Skip Hartman conceived the idea to memorialize Cary’s life and build something focused on three of Cary Leeds’ passions: tennis, children and education. Leeds recalled how Cary had written on his Yale admissions essay that “discipline, hard work and integrity developed on the tennis court could enhance every aspect of the future lives of young players.”

“The Cary Center is a place to develop these attributes, to indulge in the sport of tennis and for the children’s to improve their educational process in our state of the art classrooms,” said Leeds. The center provides more than 6,000 hours of free court time to kids annually.

All proceeds from Wednesday’s event benefit NYJTL due to the Benenson family who has underwritten the event for 32 years.

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