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Longboat Key Monday, Sep. 21, 2020 1 year ago

Tennis staple John Short dies at age 76

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Short is best known for organizing group play with the Short Academy.
by: Nat Kaemmerer Staff Writer

Longtime Longboat Key Public Tennis Center player John Short died Sept. 12. He was 76. 

Originally from Philadelphia, Short and his wife of 39 years, Christine, came to Longboat Key in the early 2000s following his retirement as CEO of Opinion Research Corp. in Princeton, NJ.

He was an avid tennis player and quickly became part of the fabric of the Longboat Key Public Tennis Center, leading the Short Academy and captaining a winning Suncoast Tennis League team at one point. 

“He really was a big part of the Tennis Center,”  manager Kay Thayer said. “We're all going to miss him a lot. He was just somebody we all could count on. We really had a lot of respect for him and what he did to help us.”

The Short Academy, originally named the Eagan Academy for founder Dick Eagan, is a group for tennis players to easily find matches six days of the week. When he took over in 2011, Short would originally do a handwritten spreadsheet of daily matches, said academy partner Bill Upton, as he eschewed computers. Upton helped him move the daily pairings to a computer spreadsheet, cutting the organizing time down from about three hours to 20 minutes. 

“John was probably one of the most dedicated people to the sport of tennis in terms of an amateur that ever was,” longtime friend and Short Academy partner Bill Upton said. 

The group began in the early 2000s with just a few players, then grew to over dozens of players by the time Short was running it. They would sometimes have to find other courts on the island, as the tennis center ran out of space in the peak season. 

“He was kind of a staple here,” Thayer said. “He would play and when he finished he would come up and drink his two Stellas (Artois). He was just a friendly guy that we all looked forward to seeing when he came up.” 

John Short plays at the Short Academy in 2018.

His love for Stella Artois was well documented, as Upton recalls that one spring at the snowbird send-off party, Short and Upton were presented with a thank-you for their work, as usual. But this time, Short was presented with a voucher for beer at the tennis center; around $200, good for two Stellas a day, Upton recalled. 

Short was right-handed, but due to a chainsaw accident when he was young, had only two fingers on that hand. Fortunately, longtime tennis friend Bill Allen said, one of them was a thumb, and he persisted in playing excellent tennis. He played more tennis than anyone else at the center and would never give up on a ball, Allen said. The men played singles against each other, playing often and winding up with about an even score. 

"He hadn’t played singles in a long, long time," Allen said. "I was 88 and he was about 74 and he said, 'Well, I don't know if I want to play singles with you or not if. I beat you what am I gonna do, say I beat an 88 year old guy?' But he agreed to play with me."

Short and his wife were also yearly competitors in the annual Observer Tennis Challenge and won a couple times. He played tennis until early 2020. His ubiquitous presence and friendly manner were well-documented, but photos couldn’t capture his laugh. 

“John had absolutely the best laugh of anybody that I've ever known,” Upton said. “He loved to laugh at everything, and it was a sincere laugh. The kind you loved to hear.”

When Short took over the Eagan Academy, it was renamed in his honor. Upton will continue putting the schedules together, but this time, the name won’t change unless someone else wants to take the reins and change it themselves. It will always be the Short Academy, still going strong. 

“It's gonna be that as long as I'm running it,” Upton said. “I'm not going to allow it to be changed. If somebody wants to change it, they can take it over.”

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