The Harrisonburg community has also benefited from Maria's presence. She was instrumental in having Harrisonburg selected as a host site for the U.S. Tennis Association $10,000 challenger. Over the past five years, Maria has volunteered to help the tournament organizers host the event. She has donated countless summer hours so that the community could enjoy a level of tennis never seen before. Fittingly Maria has given back to the community through the sport that she loves as fans and players from all over the world have come to enjoy this Harrisonburg sporting event.
Maria's unexpected entrance into the JMU community began 28 years ago after she graduated from William and Mary and came to JMU in search of a master's degree in physical education. Upon her arrival, she was quickly asked to serve as the Dukes' interim tennis coach while she juggled a busy schedule that included a graduate assistantship and teaching three classes a semester. At the time, Maria was only two years older than many of her players and would often be confused for one of them. Once her assistantship was over, Maria took over the coaching position full time and taught kinesiology classes. As Maria states, the athletic department has changed greatly from when she arrived. Now, coaches are full-time athletic department employees. Maria has noted that over the years support services have also improved to keep up with the demands in academic advising, sports medicine and recruiting. She laughs that the department has become so large that it has almost overgrown Godwin Hall. Through all of the changes in the department, Maria has served as a mentor and role model to new coaches. Maria has always valued the notion of a true student athlete. In a time when college sports are often criticized for forgetting the student in student-athlete, Maria has emphasized to her players the importance of academic accomplishments. JMU's women's tennis has been consistently recognized as an International Tennis Association All-Academic team and has produced four academic all-Americans. Currently the women's tennis team holds the best small-team GPA at JMU and was recently honored at the Verizon academic honors banquet. Current co-captain Spencer Brown values Maria's emphasis on academics - it has helped her strive towards academic success on and off the court. Spencer says "without Maria's encouragement, flexibility, and understanding, I would not have been able to have successfully completed a vigorous nursing program while competing on a Division I athletic team. Maria was always someone I felt I could confide in when I was struggling to take on both nursing school and tennis." When asked what Maria values most about her tennis career, her sense of humor and love for her players becomes apparent. She says that her motivation is spending time with her players on a daily basis. After all these years, she still looks forward to going to practice every afternoon - it is a high point in her day. The laughter she shares while working with her players is priceless to Maria. Working with 18- to 22-year-olds brings a smile to her face and keeps her mentally challenged. Her players value her as both a friend and a coach and cherish the bonds created over four years.
Due to recent departmental budget cuts, the women's tennis team, along with several other varsity teams lost all scholarship money. During 2002, in honor of Maria, players and alumni created a scholarship fund in her name. The Maria Malerba scholarship represents the drive to continue the strong tradition of women's tennis and to honor a person who has helped many grow and mature. Maria remains dedicated to JMU and her team. She hopes the program will become one of the best non-scholarship programs in the nation. When dealing with her players, she defines success not through material accomplishments but through personal development. Her definition of success is that every student-athlete is a better player and person when she leaves JMU than when she entered.
The reason we are gathered here this afternoon is to honor individuals who have positively impacted JMU through their hard work and dedication to this school and its larger community. Maria Malerba encompasses these characteristics through her positive representation of JMU on both regional and national levels. Maria has been described as a hard working, dedicated and positive role model to those who surround her. I can personally attest to the sincerity of her character, as I am a member of the varsity tennis team and a personal friend. Through placing others' accomplishments ahead of her own Maria has truly exhibited the meaning of "all together one." By recognizing Maria with this award, the entire JMU community joins with me in expressing enormous gratitude to an amazing athlete, coach, friend and mentor. Thank you, Maria, and may you enjoy many more fulfilling years here at JMU.
The JMU community would like to thank Maria Malerba.