'Love' is the Score in Tennis Club

Written by: 
Erin Cristales
Carlson family
Cutline: Back row, left to right: Gregory Carlson ('86), Leslie Manning Carlson ('87), Jerod Bond ('16), Benjamin Graf ('10 M.M., '16 Ph.D.), Seth Duban ('13, '15 M.Ed.), John Carlson ('14). Front row: Marilyn Manning, Mary Claire Carlson Bond ('15), Emily Carlson Graf ('11, '13 M.S.), Elizabeth Carlson Duban ('12), Kyrsten Burroughs Carlson ('13). (Photo courtesy of Emily Graf)

When Benjamin Graf ('10 M.M., '16 Ph.D.) landed at DFW Airport in the spring of 2008, he didn't know a single soul in Texas.

"I just hopped in a taxi and said, 'Take me to UNT,'" says Graf, a Baltimore native who was set to pursue a master's in trumpet. "I didn't even know where I was going."

After settling in at Victory Hall, he began to look for ways to get involved on campus that weren't directly connected to music. A former high school tennis player, he decided to join UNT's club tennis team. That's how he met Emily Carlson ('11, '13 M.S.) -- now Emily Graf -- who invited him to Clark Hall to celebrate a mutual friend's birthday.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Actually -- scratch that. "Legacy" is a better word, as Graf became the first of three love connections the Carlson sisters -- whose blood already ran Green -- made in club tennis. Emily, of course, married Benjamin, in a 2013 ceremony that included instrumentals by UNT music students. Her twin sister, Elizabeth ('12), an education major, married teammate Seth Duban ('13, '15 M.Ed.), a kinesiology major, a couple of years later. Youngest sister Mary Claire ('15), a biology major, married teammate Jerod Bond ('16), an engineering major, a year after that. And though they didn't meet at UNT, Emily's brother John ('14) also is married to alum Kyrsten Burroughs Carlson ('13).

"Ben was the president of the club, and I was the vice president," says Emily, an education major who now works as a seventh-grade science teacher at Lake­view Middle School in The Colony. "I can't recommend rec sports enough. It's nice when you can go off to college and create this little family of your own."

The Carlson family was already a great example of the bonds forged among UNT alums long before the sisters met their husbands on the court. Emily wasn't the first Carlson to meet her spouse on campus -- her father, Gregory ('86), met her mother, Leslie Manning ('87), when they were both science undergrads.

"Mom and Dad met in a biology lab -- it's so fun that they met here as well," Emily says. "I remember visiting one of the lecture halls as a kid, and my dad talking about being an 18-year-old student here. It's reassuring to go to school somewhere that feels personal and like home."

Emily's great-grandparents on her mother's side also attended UNT, which at the time was called North Texas State Teachers College. Her great-grandfather Arlos Gilbreth ('29) worked as a teacher, then principal, while her great-grandmother Thelma Orr ('28) was a home economics teacher.

"Great-Grandpa was on the track team and was editor of the yearbook," Emily says. "And we still have my great-grandmother's class ring from 1928."

Emily and Benjamin hope the UNT legacy will continue with their son, Lucas, who will soon turn 2. He's already attended alumni events with his parents, and now that Benjamin also works as a music theory professor on campus, the Grafs hope their son develops the same lifelong attachment to UNT that they have.

"When I look back on it, from when I first got off the plane to when I met my wife-to-be, that's really what made me feel at home in Denton," Benjamin says. "Being part of a family that is so connected to UNT definitely contributed to making me want to stay here."


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