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Director and Head Coach Lisa S. Thomas brings 20 years of experience to your doorstep.

A native of Chicago’s southside, Coach Lisa Thomas began her athletic career as a young tennis player on a Chicago District Tennis Assoc. scholarship. Quickly recognized as a standout junior by the Chicago Prairie Tennis Club (one o the oldest Black clubs in the U.S.), Lisa competed in her first national American tennis Association (ATA) tournament at the age of twelve at Princeton University. As a four-sport athlete at Lindblom High school, Lisa competed in tennis, basketball, volleyball and track and field. As a singles and doubles player on two Lindblom city championship teams, Lisa and her doubles partner were the first African Americans to qualify for the Illinois State tournament, where they reached the semi-finals and were ultimately invited to compete in the 18 and under Hardcourt National Championships in Arcadia, California. Lisa also competed in WTA/USTA tournaments and achieved a regional ranking in the Western Tennis Association.

A talented basketball player, Lisa was a four-year starter at the center position and reached the finals of the 1974 Chicago high school city championships. The following year, her team won the inaugural Chicagoland Holiday Tournament. She was named to the All-Tournament team, won the city championship, reached the third round of the Illinois state tournament, and was named to the All-state team. Lisa also played AAU basketball; her team, Salt & Pepper, won three state, three regional, and one National title.

An even more impressive college career followed after Lisa was awarded a full scholarship to the University of Illinois-Chicago to compete in tennis and basketball. As a tennis player, Lisa played #2 singles and #1 doubles, and qualified with her team and as an individual for the AIAW Illinois State Tournament all four years of her undergraduate career. As a basketball player, Lisa was a member of the All-State team four times, named 2nd team All-American three times, and made the final cut for the 1976 Olympic trials. In 1977, Lisa was voted Female Athlete of the year by her classmates at the University of Illinois-Chicago. In 1979, Lisa was drafted by the Chicago Hustle as part of the first professional Women’s basketball league in the United States and played until her retirement in 1981.

After completing her graduate degree, Lisa moved to Los Angeles and returned to her first love of tennis. As a member of the SoCal tennis association, she achieved a #1 ranking in the 35/over category, a #2 ranking in the 40/over category, and a top five ranking in the 45/over category. She also reached a #1 ranking in mixed doubles in the 35/over and 40/over, #2 in the 45/over categories. Lisa achieved a top ten national ranking in the 40/over women’s doubles and capped her amateur playing career with ATA singles and doubles national titles in the 35/over and 40/over categories and 2 World Team Tennis National Championships.

Lisa’s love for coaching was evident early, as she began teaching tennis as a college student during summers in Chicago. In 1983, she created a junior tennis program at Jackson Park. After moving to Los Angeles, she co-founded a South Central Los Angeles tennis program at Crenshaw High school. This program, free to the community, incorporated health and wellness mentoring for participants and ran for ten years, 2002-2012. Among the program highlights was a scholarship fund for college-bound graduating seniors who participated in the program. Coach Lisa continued teaching tennis to juniors in the Los Angeles area and directed an NJTL program for underserved youth at Griffith Park from 2014-2020.

In 1991, Lisa was inducted into the University of Illinois-Chicago’s Hall of Fame for her basketball and tennis achievements. She was the first woman to be inducted for two sports and the first African American inductee. In 2000, she was inducted into the Chicago Public League’s (HS) Hall of Fame for basketball. In 2018, Lisa was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame as a trailblazer in the sport and part of the first women’s professional basketball league.

As a science major at the University of Illinois-Chicago, Lisa pursued a career as a research scientist. She recently retired from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center after 23 years doing research for the Inflammatory Bowel and Immunobiology Research Institute (IBIRI), working to find a cure for Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative Colitis. She has co-authored over 40 peer-reviewed journal publications and trained Cedar’s graduate students, medical students, residents, and research associates as a lab manager in IBIRI.

Coach Lisa in the news: Research Scientist Scores Induction Into Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame

Researcher Scores Induction Into Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame

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