Holiday time around Kansas City normally means high school basketball.
However, when Shawnee Mission East Tennis standout Jack Santilli received the call that he was this week's Hy-Vee 41 Five-Star Athlete of the Week, he was surprised.
"You know, it's mid-basketball season. So, I though it would probably go to a basketball player. But, you know, I'm honored. It's special," Santilli said.
Jack is one of the best local prep tennis players in the area.
He's headed to play collegiate tennis at Division 1 Cleveland State in the fall; he's one of 7 NCAA Division 1 fall signees from the Kansas City United Tennis (KCUT) Academy.
He also recalls some of over his other accomplishments over his high school career.
"Freshman year, in the state tournament, I played doubles with a Senior," Jack said. "We won the state title. And, that was a really good experience to have."
Jack has played tennis since he was nine years old. Elliott McDermet is the Owner & Co-Founder of the Overland Park Racquet Club and KCUT.
He met Jack several years after Santilli started playing the sport and has seen lots of growth in this budding star.
"Jack was 13 when I first met him. And, we started our relationship - player, coach," said McDermet. "Jack had a bit of a reputation as a hothead on the court. He had a little bit of (John) McEnroe in him. I said to him, 'Look, you've got a fresh start with me and this program and it's your choice of how you go forward.'
McDermott added, "Jack made a real decision to turn things around when he was in 7th grade to really turn things around and really make sportsmanship a priority. That's really what sticks with me when I think about Jack and his journey through this tennis process."
Both McDermott and Jack's Shawnee Mission East High School Tennis Coach, Sue Chipman, believed in him from day one.
"Jack's a great team leader. He's soft-spoken and goes about things quietly. But, he's a great example for the younger boys," Chipman said. "He, last year, ended up second in state in singles. And, probably would have tried to go out and finish a match that he just was not able to play because of cramping. He still wanted to give it a go even though he couldn't stand up. He said, 'I wanna try coach. I wanna try.' I said, 'Jack, you can't stand up. You can't do that. But, he's great."
Jack expressed his happiness for having his two coaches around who have been instrumental in his success.
"I've been around great people playing tennis. And, it's just really help me grow as a person and I'm really thankful for that," Jack said. "Both my coaches Sue and Elliott have really helped. Elliott has helped more with how I play, like my style and how to construct points. And, Sue's been there like more emotionally. And, she's really helped me through high school a lot. And, I'm really thankful for that."
NOTE: The Hy-Vee 41 5-Star Athlete of the Week piece airs every Thursday night during the 41 Action Sports segment at 10 p.m. for the entire school year.
Ryan Marshall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.