SI Vault
Barry McDermott
November 08, 1982
At 12 Lori Kosten was ranked No. 2 in the U.S. in tennis, and her future seemed golden. Then everything fell apart
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
November 08, 1982

The Glitter Has Gone

At 12 Lori Kosten was ranked No. 2 in the U.S. in tennis, and her future seemed golden. Then everything fell apart

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Howard Schoenfield, now 24, won virtually every tournament he entered in 1975, including the national 18-and-under championship. Later that year he had a breakdown and entered a mental hospital for several months. Howard currently lives in a halfway house on the outskirts of Jacksonville, suffering from a mental illness his psychiatrists have been unable to diagnose with any certainty. Twice a month he has to take an injection of Prolixin, a drug to relieve severe anxiety, agitation and psychotic behavior. Residents with zombielike stares shuffle around the grounds outside the converted whitewashed motel, and teen-agers driving by scream cruel epithets at them. A tennis-court construction company is next door.

The Schoenfields were a tennis family through and through. Howard's father, Leslie, was a renowned physician at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. When Howard was 13, Jack Kramer evaluated his game in Los Angeles. Shortly thereafter, the Schoenfields moved to Beverly Hills, largely so that Howard could play with the best. "It was a classic case of the tail wagging the dog, rather than the dog wagging the tail," says Dr. Simon Levit, Howard's uncle. "Of course, tennis affected Howard. There's no question about it."

When Howard was 16, his mother killed herself. He was shattered by her death. Levit says Howard's mother couldn't cope with the tremendous change in her life. According to him, the family had been happy in Minnesota. Suddenly they were living a vastly different lifestyle in California.

After his hospitalization ended in 1976, Howard practiced tennis for five days and then told his coach, Paul Cohen, that he wanted to defend his national title. In the semifinals Howard lost a two-hour match to Larry Gottfried, Brian's brother. Following the match, Cohen carried Howard back to the hotel. He couldn't walk because his feet were so blistered. Cohen says Howard's performance that day was the most courageous thing he has ever witnessed.

Soon afterward, Jane and Winder Hughes of Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. met him at a tournament, befriended him and sponsored him on the pro tour for two years. "It was junior tennis that affected Howard," says Jane. "That did it. There was nothing else wrong with him. He thought so, too. He was worn out from the pressure. He always said, 'Why don't they let me rest? That's what I need—rest.' "

Today Howard has nothing but rest. His hair is bushy, and he wears the same shirt, shorts and sandals every day. "I felt pressure as a kid," he says. "Expectations were pretty high, and you had to succeed. It kind of gets to you. But I loved the pressure. It felt good. Right now I don't feel a damn thing. I'm just a vegetable. "

Two years ago Howard seemed to be making progress. He won a $50,000 pro tournament in Tulsa, beating Bob Lutz along the way. But seven months later he was back in a hospital. "I don't care if people know about me," says Howard. "Everybody in tennis knows anyway. I just don't have anything to protect anymore—no self-pride, nothing. People say I look fine, that I act fine, but I still feel rotten. It's really depressing here. I can't sleep. Nothing can hurt me because I don't have anything left."

Howard would like to begin playing tennis again, but, he says, "It would surprise me if I could come back." He pauses and then adds, "My father pushed me, but maybe you shouldn't write that. It might upset him." Howard's father, now the head of the gastroenterology department at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, hesitates to connect his son's illness with tennis, although he admits he cannot rule it out. Both of Howard's brothers have made it through adolescence unscathed. Mark, 23, was graduated from Yale and was a member of the varsity wrestling team, and Steve, 21, attends Cal State-Northridge. Neither played serious tennis.

Howard's father and a psychiatrist who treated Howard believe the death of his mother—not tennis—precipitated his illness. Moreover, the mother had a history of mental illness. Two of Howard's most steadfast supporters during his ordeal have been his paternal grandparents, Harriet and Morey Schoenfield of Davie, Fla. The grandparents still have hope he will some day get back into tennis. They have told him that if he demonstrates a show of good faith by jogging 10 miles a day for a month, they will take him in, oversee his training and accompany him on the pro circuit.

While Marilyn Kosten was coping with the problems of being a tennis mother, her daughter's world was disintegrating. At Bollettieri's academy, where Lori lived from September 1978 until January 1979 and from January through May of 1980, she was in an environment in which everyone had talent. Frequently she'd telephone home, her voice tight with anxiety. "I lost to a girl today who's a nobody," she would wail. Recalls Bollettieri, "Lori would win the first set, be 1-1 in the second and get sick. She was afraid of losing. Then the injuries would start."

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10