Legendary community tennis ambassador Jim Reffkin dies at 84

Jim Reffkin became a fixture in Tucson as a tennis ambassador over the last 60 years (Jim Reffkin Tennis Center photo)

One lasting memory of mine as a young reporter in the late 1980s was Jim Reffkin going out of his way to assist me in my first experience of reporting on a high school tennis invitational.

He instructed me where the top matches were scheduled, introduced me to coaches and players and consistently made sure I was up to date on the matches at what was then called the Randolph Tennis Center.

The City of Tucson changed the name in 2009 to the Jim Reffkin Tennis Center, in honor of one of the most impactful sports personalities this area has known.

Tennis is a country-club sport, but Reffkin never considered himself elite. He was all about the common good with tennis his vehicle to reach many in the community.

Reffkin passed away Sunday at the age of 84.

Southern Arizona lost its greatest tennis ambassador in history, but his impact will remain with the Reffkin Tennis Center and the memories of those he touched along the way.

He was director of tennis at the Reffkin Center for decades, was a state and national championship coach at Salpointe and Pima, and was inducted into the halls of fame for both the Southwest U.S. Tennis Association and United States Professional Tennis Association.

The USTA named the Reffkin Center the No. 1 facility in America in 1993.

A native of Munster, Ind., Reffkin moved to Tucson in 1964 after earning a degree at Marquette University two years previously. A coaching and teaching position at Salpointe brought him to Tucson.

Reffkin was the founder of the annual high school invitational in Tucson in 1971 that now bears his name. He was instrumental in stirring interest of tennis at the high school level as a chairman of the Southern Division Tennis Association of the Arizona Interscholastic Association in the 1970s.

He brought Little League Tennis to Tucson and founded the Holiday Junior Tennis Camp and Junior Talent Tennis Hunt in Southern Arizona.

He was presented the 1979 National Community Service Award at the U.S. Open in New York.

“My philosophy is to do things and make things happen,” Reffkin said in an interview with the Arizona Daily Star in 1981. “We’ve come up with some very unique things. That’s what it’s all about. I’m pretty set in the way we run our programs.

“We have a system that works so well. We really do it very efficiently.”

Funeral arrangements are pending.

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