A legacy left behind
Published: Tuesday, January 24, 2006 at 12:21 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 24, 2006 at 12:21 p.m.
Joyce Oransky still lives with every serve, ace and volley taken on the courts that bear her name. She may have died in 2003, but she still lives.
With the hundreds of little yellow tennis balls hitting the dark green pavement at the Westside Park tennis courts daily, Joyce has an impact on each and every one. On Jan. 13, 2004, the tennis complex at Westside Park, 1001 NW 34th St. in Gainesville, was dedicated as the Joyce Oransky Tennis Center at Westside Park.
Joyce Portman Oransky, who was an All-American tennis player for the University of Florida in 1979 and 1980, died on July 22, 2003 from heart complications.
“She had a blood clot, a large blood clot near her heart,” Joyce’s husband, Mike Oransky said. “The doctors never, to this day, never knew why. You clot, we all clot all the time and she just happened to have a large clot that couldn’t pass through the heart, and it clogged up the heart area, and that started it. It clogged up and the heart actually ripped in half. There was no chance.”
Why then, does a woman who ran more than three times a week, was a tennis pro and was in great health just drop and die in an instant?
“What happened with Joyce, Joyce was a picture of health,” Oransky said. “If you picked up a lineup and said ‘which one’s going to live a short life,’ you would never pick Joyce.”
Joyce was a people person. She had an “infectious personality,” the kind of person everybody wanted to be around. Maybe that is why she was so successful in her playing days, as a coach and as a teacher.
“The girls here in town wanted to learn from Joyce because the talk was rarely only about tennis,” Oransky said. “It was ‘who’s your boyfriend, what are you doing today.’ She would take them all to lunch and make it fun for them.”
As a junior tennis player at Miami Beach Senior High School in the mid-1970’s, Joyce dominated her circuit, and was ranked as one of the top junior female tennis players in Florida. Mike was ranked atop the male junior rankings at the same time, and was also from South Florida.
“We didn’t hang out, we weren’t really good friends, but we knew each other, we knew of each other,” Oransky said. “Coincidentally, um, I guess it was our junior year in high school, I was Miami Herald all-city and so was she, and—we didn’t really realize this until about eight or nine years ago—when they took the picture, she was on the ground kneeling and my hands were on her shoulders. Her mom gave us that picture.”
While Joyce was starring at Florida, Mike was settling into his own niche at Louisiana State University, earning all-Southeastern Conference honors in 1979. The two met after Mike graduated from LSU and moved to Gainesville, where his father was a doctor working at the University of Florida medical school.
“I didn’t have any friends here, so I gave her a call and that’s kind of how we hooked up,” he said.
The chance call—and the common interest in tennis—set up a relationship that would last until Joyce’s death in 2003, including a 19-year marriage. Tennis bonded the two.
Joyce played tennis with her smarts, her speed and her determination. She had a great backhand, something that definitely sets the best players apart from the rest, Mike said.
Her career at Florida saw her graduate with a 51-10 Gator dual-match record, the most wins ever in Florida history at the time. Though the total has been surpassed since, many feel her accomplishments should be recognized.
“Here at UF, she was a two-time All-American and still has one of the highest winning percentages in UF history,” Oransky said. “She won the National Indoor Collegiate Championships. That was a pretty big accomplishment for her. We’re all trying to get her into the Gator Hall of Fame.”
Joyce also coached under Steve Beeland at Florida in the mid-1980s.
“I’m still hoping she gets in [the Hall of Fame],” Oransky said. “That’s one thing she really wanted, to get in. And she is well deserving, more so than some of the people who have gotten in since. She has a better record. She graduated. So I would really love to see her get in.”
Joyce played the game she loved at such a high level for so long. Her greatest honor, though, may have come after her life was cut short, with the courts her husband still teaches at named after her.
“It’s a great feeling,” Oransky said. “A piece of Joyce started here and there’s a piece of Joyce everyday when I come here, so obviously I’m proud. Proud of her, happy that the city did something like that. This is something that will always be there, so it’s a nice feeling.”
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