Look across the page -- just to the left. That is what last weekend's Cissie Leary Invitational will be remembered for, Anastasia's win. Former Penn women's tennis coach Cissie Leary passed from the Penn athletics scene very much as she existed in it, quietly. Even those the most familiar with Penn sports may not know exactly who Cissie was, and certainly not what she was. And as every Cissie Leary Invitational passes, and only two of her recruiting classes remain, tragically, her memory falls more in jeopardy of existing to the outside world solely on a banner. This tournament embodies her much more than simply by name. The banquets for the players and the friendships forged before competition exemplify the platform on which she believed athletics should be played. Coaches bring players to this event for Cissie and what she believed in, not to showcase their talents. Cissie passed quietly through Penn's public eye, as she diverted attention away from herself. But her life was spent in the hearts of others and they flooded her open ears. Leary came to Penn in 1977 at the age of 22 and involved herself with everything and everyone she could until scleroderma finally forced her to rest in November 1996 -- after she spent 10 years fighting it. To this day, her influence is alive on tennis courts throughout the country, and her smile is ingrained in minds so vividly that some of her players can't help but refer to her in the present tense. As close friend Louise Gengler, head coach of the Princeton women's tennis team, stated, she became a common thread to coaches and tennis on the regional and national level. Her work went well beyond coaching Penn to 16 winning seasons, and a cumulative record of 229-119. "People who didn't know what Penn tennis was all about knew the name Cissie Leary," Gengler said. Cissie also spent nine years on the National Tournament and ITA regional Committees. She coached the 1981, '85 and '89 U.S. teams at the Maccabiah Games, and earned coach of the year honors by the United States Professional Tennis Association's Middle States Division. And the accolades go on and on. But her legacy was the friendships she bestowed upon those she worked with. On game day, Gengler says, there was no one more competitive. But practices were fun, and it was the players' time. With Cissie, it was always the players' time to shine. To the day she passed away, she wanted to make sure the spotlight landed somewhere else. Leary battled her illness for 10 years. She was diagnosed with her cancer simultaneously with the pregnancy of her now 12-year-old daughter Katie. Her legacy was to be a great mother, as she already was to so many. She took a chance of giving up her life -- a possibility the doctors made her aware of if she had her child -- to bring life to another, and joy to so many more. During the miraculous 10 years time she fought cancer, she made sure to live, not die. When she brought junior Elana Gold to Penn for a recruiting trip, she mentioned nothing of her sickness. It was only later, when Gold went to Cornell to be recruited, that she found out of Leary's illness. Senior tri-captain Karen Ridley recalls Leary saying, "I'm very sick, but I'll be fine; I'll be better," and simply thinking she would be. Cissie always made you think she would be fine. Her terminal illness was brushed away by her smile and her desire to hear your problems. Penn coach Michael Dowd tells the same story. "You would ask her how she was feeling, when she wasn't looking good," Dowd said. "And the next thing you know she had turned the question around into asking about how you were. "She made you feel like the only person that mattered. All of a sudden you'd be telling her about your problems that were so much less significant than hers. She never talked about herself." Tennis was her love, and people were her life. The hardest time of her life came in that November month of 1996. She couldn't drive the team van to away events, but she made every trip. Just before she passed away, she talked of the spring break trip, and bringing her dialysis machine with her so she could join the team. But she never put her needs ahead of the team. And last weekend, she wouldn't have either. Cissie would have wanted the spotlight to be on Anastasia. She would have read the article across the page first. She would have made Anastasia feel like she was all that mattered last weekend.Comments powered by Disqus
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