Thu, Jul. 10, 2008
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SPRINGFIELD, IL - Decades of service by Manuel M. Velasco, the Springfield Park District's racquet sports director and long-time area tennis coach, along with his wife Blanca Maria, to the Springfield community was recognized by the Springfield Park District with the renaming of the Washington Park tennis area to the Velasco Tennis Center. A dedication ceremony and reception was hosted by the District, the Springfield Parks Foundation and the Velasco Tennis Committee.
"The facility is not being named after me," said Manny Velasco. "This is an honor for the entire family. I'm taking a lot of the credit when it should be a shared credit with the whole family."
"It just leaves me with no words," said Blanca Maria. "Because I'd never heard of anything like this happening. A lot of times, this is done as a memorial."
Manny Velasco, a native of Bolivia, has served as the head men's tennis coach at the University of Illinois at Springfield and has taken his teams to 14 NAIA National Tournaments over the past 24 years. He accepted the reins of the Prairie Stars women's tennis team last season and now coaches both teams. He has also coached at Jacksonville High School, MacMurray University, Illinois College, the Springfield Racquet Club and at Springfield College in Illinois.
As a player, Velasco won six Bolivian National Junior Tennis Champion titles and competed at the U.S. Open at Forest Hills. He was ranked as the top player in Bolivia before coming to the U.S. in 1958 to attend Eastern Illinois University. Velasco's teaching and coaching abilities were recognized in 1972 as he was named the coach of the Brazilian National Team.
Blanca Maria has served as the assistant manager for tennis programs for the Park District and participates in several community organizations, including the Girls Scouts of America, the Illinois Prairie Council and the Thomas Rees Carillon Board. She played tennis at Lincoln Land Community College, at the age of 47, and then competed in collegiate national tournaments ten years later while attending Springfield College in Illinois (SCI). At the age of 57, Blanca Maria was the oldest collegiate tennis player in the country.
The two met at the American Institute in Cochabamba, Bolivia in 1955. Four years later, the two exchanged vows in 1959 and will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary in 2009.