Back in his days at New Trier High School, Jerry Karzen was a tad shy. But those who saw him play tennis knew he was an exceptional athlete.
Karzen eventually attended the University of Michigan on a tennis scholarship and faced a big decision after graduation.
Professional tennis or a master’s degree in speech pathology? Karzen found a way to do both by joining the professional tennis tour right out of the gate, after which he attended graduate school. But his heart was always in tennis.
“I started playing in tournaments when I was 11 or 12 years old. I was on the tour for about three and a half years. I’ve always liked to compete so it was natural for me to follow it up with teaching [and] coaching tennis. It is what I have done since the professional playing days.”
What Karzen modestly refers to as “the tour” was actually professional competitions at the highest level. After being an All-American in college, he played in Wimbledon, the French Open and the U.S. Open--part of the grand slam of the tennis circuit.
Karzen won four national father-son titles with his dad, Richard, who passed away in 1996. He has won six national father-daughter titles with his daughter, Becky. With his son Brett, they have won 17 national father-son titles in their own right.
Besides Becky, Karzen has two other daughters from his marriage of nearly three decades.
Karzen said his love of tennis began with his father.
“It was great. He was the person I learned the most from and we had a lot of good times together--that’s for sure. I’ve gone full circle," he said. "I used to be the son playing in tournaments with my dad and now I’m the dad playing with my daughters and son.”
Around the same time that Karzen left the tour, he got involved with the North Shore Racquet Club. He has been part-owner of the club for 33 years. He runs the club, teaches and even does some coaching at New Trier.
“I’ve always enjoyed teaching. I’ve helped the boys and girls out part time for a long time and I was also the head girls’ coach for eight years. It’s been a good fit for me overall; I really can’t complain.”
Karzen clearly loves being a family man, and he brings that style into the racquet club.
“I have a bunch of family working with me. My sister, Jan, is working as the manager. My brother, John, has actually been there about 15 or 20 years. And my two oldest children work there, too, which is really nice. They’re great and I can always count on them.”
Looking at the future, Karzen can’t really think of anything that he would want to do differently. “I’ve always liked sports and tennis, I’ve always liked to teach and coach, I’ve always liked to play a bit, too.
"When I was competing, I did a lot of traveling. I’ve been around the world a couple of times when I played professionally," the former tennis pro said. "Maybe I’m a little bit busier than I want to be and I would like more free time. But it’s better to be busy than not.”
Even with his international success, New Trier is a continuing theme in Karzen's life. “I have been running a tennis camp for 33 years at New Trier. It’s like going back to high school,” he said.