BROOKSVILLE — Sometimes in life, someone comes along who touches a group of people in a unique way.
Simon Toftegaard was a person like that. And now, those who knew him want to do something in his memory.
Toftegaard, 16, was a sophomore at Nature Coast Technical High School last year. He had distinguished himself as one of the most promising tennis players on the North Suncoast, going 17-0 in singles competition. He won an individual district championship.
Over the years, he had become well known in the youth tennis community. He had an infectious attitude that everyone who came in contact with him clearly remembers.
"I nicknamed him Bunny," Simon's former coach, Judy Jeanette, said. "He was like the Energizer bunny. He wasn't just energetic himself. He energized everyone around him."
The bright light that was Toftegaard's spirit was extinguished prematurely this past summer. While his family was vacationing in its native Denmark in July, Toftegaard was involved in an accident. He was riding a bicycle down a winding road when he was struck by a car.
Toftegaard had been a natural with a racket for years. In middle school under Challenger K-8 coach Brett Teitelman, he learned the basics of playing on a team. While compiling a 5-3 singles mark in seventh grade, he made great strides. He showed just how far he had come when he went 7-0 as an eighth-grader.
Many expected he would eventually take his place as one of the best players to ever come out of Hernando County. But even Toftegaard's accomplishments as an athlete did not measure up to the impression he left as a person. That was symbolized by what Challenger K-8 did earlier this school year.
The school newspaper created a full-page tribute to its former tennis star and what he meant to the program.
Teitelman remained close even after Toftegaard went on to high school, and the loss hit him especially hard.
"When a kid like (Toftegaard) graduates, you have such an appreciation for him, and you always think there's going to be plenty of time to go and see him play again," Teitelman said. "I just wish I could go see him play again one more time."
In high school, Toftegaard played well as a freshman for the Sharks, going 7-4 in singles play.
However, it was his doubles achievements that surprised everyone. He qualified for the state tourney while teaming with Nature Coast star P.J. Watterson. The duo repeated the achievement while winning the district doubles title last season.
For the past five years, the Nature Coast Tennis Foundation has held a junior singles tournament at Delta Woods Park in Spring Hill. In early November, with the blessing of Toftegaard's parents, the foundation's board of directors decided to rename the tournament in Toftegaard's memory. He won the elementary boys division in the first event in 2005.
Organizers hope the Simon Toftegaard Memorial Junior Tennis Tournament in mid January will embody the energy and passion for the sport that Toftegaard had. With a $500 scholarship being awarded at the event to one high school player, his memory can live on in more ways than one.
"His parents thanked us for thinking about him," said John Downey, the foundation's executive director. "We think he'd really enjoy this. We think this is a fitting way to honor him."