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David N. Dinkins | By Nancy Gill McShea

The Honorable David N. Dinkins, the 106th Mayor of the City of New York, was inaugurated on January 1, 1989 with the pledge to make the streets safer, offer children more hope and opportunity, and secure the City’s fiscal stability, among other high hopes.

Despite assuming this office during very difficult times, the Mayor has given the people of New York compassionate and effective leadership.  And considering his high profile as perhaps the City’s most visible tennis fan and recreational player, it is not surprising that he advances some of his favorite causes as a volunteer for the sport he loves. 

Conveniently, he has also been advised (under doctor’s orders) to play the sport he loves five times a week!  Singles, of course.  Since taking over as mayor, he has reportedly raised his game one whole level by adding a topspin backhand to his repertoire and becoming much more aggressive and powerful on the forehand side.  His regular tennis opponents understandably view his new prowess with certain envy, but they admit that the ability to improve ones’ game so dramatically (in one’s sixties) is consistent with being an effective mayor in New York City. 

Besides, as his friend David Markin points out, “Not every great man has a topspin backhand.”

Among the Mayor’s proudest accomplishments are those that improve the quality of life for the City’s most vulnerable people, especially children.  During his tenure, he has instituted a comprehensive criminal justice program: Safe Streets, Safe City.  The youth component of the plan helps prevent crime by giving young people new opportunities for learning and recreation.  Nowhere is that ideal more evident than in the Mayor’s enthusiastic support of junior tennis programs in the metropolitan area.  He is praised often for publicizing his belief that tennis offers children a healthy, positive alternative to the dangers of the street.

In 1990, Eastern’s Junior Tennis Foundation added a scholarship in the Mayor’s name to the awards agenda at this annual Hall of Fame celebration, which is also the sole fund raiser for the ETA’s junior programs.  Part of the funds benefit needy children in the inner city, who might otherwise never have a chance to learn the game.  The Mayor has thoroughly enjoyed presenting two scholarships each year to two deserving youngsters from among the City’s programs: the Department of Parks and Recreation, Pyramid Tennis, and the Harlem and New York Junior Tennis Leagues (NYJTL).

The Mayor not only supports these programs as a matter of principle, he regularly joins the children on tennis courts throughout the City decked out in the insignia jackets of his favorites-at ETA/USTA Schools programs, pro-celebrity clinics, awards ceremonies such as the NYJTL-sponsored Mayors’ Cup All-Scholastic Championships, and fund raisers.

In 1991, when he was honored as the ETA’s “Tennis Man of the Year,” the Mayor reiterated his faith in the inherent goodness of children.  “There are highly publicized situations regarding problem kids,” he said that evening.  “People think all kids are like that today.  Well, they’re not.  Most youngsters are good and kind and wonderful and fair.”

He has also fostered a positive image for New York nationally and worldwide through special events, which bring additional revenue to the City.  The City hosted the successful 1992 Democratic National Convention and plans are underway to bring the 1998 Goodwill Games to New York.  Moreover, the Mayor has enthusiastically supported the USTA’s plan to improve and modernize the U.S.Open site at Flushing Meadow-Corona Park to ensure that the Open remains the preeminent Grand Slam tennis tournament in the world. 

The Mayor knows all too well that New York City needs a world-class economy to thrive and he has taken aggressive steps to invest in business and build the City’s economic base.  Part of that effort has included trying to expand economic opportunities for small businesses.  In fact this past January, the Mayor attended the official opening of the Roosevelt Island Racquet Club (a new privately-owned tennis facility) in recognition of small business development in the City.

Mayor Dinkins was born in Trenton, N.J., on July 10, 1927, and began his career in public service as a State Assemblyman in 1966.  He was president of the Board of Elections from 1972 to 1973, served as City Clerk from 1975 to 1985 and as Manhattan Borough President from 1985 to 1989.  He is a graduate of Howard University and Brooklyn Law School, and a veteran of the United Sates Marine Corps.  He and his wife Joyce have two children: David, Jr., and Donna Hoggard; a grandson, Jamal; and a granddaughter, Kalila.

During warm celebrations such as these, the Mayor’s charming personality and warm sense of humor shine through-even at his expense.  At last year’s Hall of Fame dinner he told a story about driving through Harlem with Joyce.  They saw a street sweeper who was also one of Joyce’s former boyfriends.  The Mayor said, “Aren’t you glad you didn’t marry him?” To which Joyce replied,”…I’m not so sure because if I had married him he’d be the Mayor.”

Photo Credit: Steve Berman

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Sydney Llewellyn | By Nancy Gill McShea

Sydney Llewellyn, arrived in New York from Jamaica, the West Indies, in 1930 as a young man in his twenties, and later emerged as one of the most accomplished and influential tennis coaches in the East. 

In the mid-1940’s, he joined the Cosmopolitan Tennis Club in Harlem where the famous Fred Johnson tutored him in the game.  Sydney would go on to inspire people of all ages to play tennis, including those at the highest level of the sport.  He guided his most notable pupil, Althea Gibson, to five Grand Slam singles titles: the French in 1956, and both Wimbledon and the U.S. National Championships in 1957 and ’58.  And in 1959, Sydney launched Althea’s professional career by arranging for her to play tennis prior to the Harlem Globetrotters’ basketball games.

“Sydney is among the world’s greatest tennis coaches,” says Althea, who in 1988 was among the first nine people to be inducted into the ETA Hall of Fame.  “His knowledge of tennis is outstanding.  Through his coaching, I developed my game and gained confidence.  It was a great moment for us both when I won my own country’s championship for the first time.”

How did this man, who was first introduced to tennis as a ball boy at the exclusive St. Andres Tennis Club in Jamaica, integrate all his life experiences-as a research assistant, inventor, author, soccer player, swimmer, painter, dancer, taxi driver, seaman and master pool shooter-and become on of the great American tennis coaches?

Friends say he had an experience at age 16 which gave him confidence and changed his life.  Drs. Morris Steggerda and C.B. Davenport came to Jamaica to conduct an anthropological study for the Carnegie Institute on Race Crossing in Jamaica, and they selected Sydney to work as their research assistant.  When the work was published (stating in part that black people possess an exceptionally well-developed sense of rhythm), Sydney received an unusual commendation, which read: “Sydney Rhoden Llewellyn, a sixteen year-old boy, acted as an assistant recorder.  His work was efficient and thorough.”  The field research gave him an opportunity to travel outside of Jamaica, and the whole experience provided him with a range of skills-technical and social-that would serve him well throughout his life.

In 1967, he invented an exercise training device called “Equiform” to allow tennis players to simulate the various strokes of their game.  A cable device which connects to the foot and wrists.  Equiform trains the muscles and assists the motion of the various strokes.  It is still in existence today.

Sydney’s students have labeled him variously as a philosopher at heart, a keen observer and a master of the inner psychological game.  They point out that early on he espoused the theory that tennis for kids is a healthy alternative to the dangers of the street.  “Tennis is more than a game, it is a habit,” he has said.  “And if we can give kids this habit, they won’t have to seek others.”

One of his admirers is former student Bill Davis, the assistant commissioner for equal opportunity for New York City’s Department of Parks, and a five-time champion of the American Tennis Association (ATA, which was founded in 1916 as a predominantly African-American national tennis association).

“Sydney believes in the power of the ‘word,’ and that by the word one lives in dignity,” says Bill.  “His hobbies are drawing and painting, but he is better known for painting pictures with his words, which flow like an art form in which one can visualize his concepts…When he explains the tennis grips, he associates it with the holding of a bird.  ‘Don’t squeeze it to death,’ he says, ‘but don’t let it get away.’”

Don Ringgold, another ATA champ and former student who went on teach tennis at the University of Pennsylvania, has said, “You know, he used to cite Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet.  He knew it verbatim.  Coach is an amazing man.”

In 1977, Sydney coordinated and managed this country’s first prize money tournament for African-Americans in Myrtle Beach, S.C., with Horace Reid emerging the winner.  In addition, over the past 40 years he has taught more than a dozen ATA champions and has influenced more African-American tennis players to become teaching professionals than perhaps anyone else in history.  A sampling includes: Bill Davis’ brother, Bob, who teaches in the ABC Cities program; Zack Davis; Arthur Carrington; Terrance Jackson; Lisa Hopewell; and Dot Kornegay.  He has also taught fellow Hall of Fame inductee David Dinkins, the celebrated photographer Gordon Parks and other celebrities.

Through the years he has been an active member of the U.S. Professional Tennis Association, treasurer of the Eastern Professional Lawn Tennis Association, and a contributing writer for Professional Tennis magazine.

Sydney Llewellyn often preaches a motto that applies to all life’s endeavors; “Start where you are, with what you have, make something and never be satisfied.”

Photo Credit: Steve Berman

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John Nogrady | By Nancy Gill McShea

For more than a half century now, famous Eastern coach John Nogrady has been challenging and cajoling tennis players to give it their best shout.  He approaches his craft with unusual analytical skills and an gagging joie de vivre [not to mention and irreverent teaching style].  Depending on which side of the net you’re on, John’s teaching methods may be viewed as either insightful or inciteful.

People from all walks of life have felt the sting of the familiar Nogrady challenge.  “You’re playing great, marvelous, fantastic,” he will say.  And then he’ll give you the needle to bring you down to earth: “You’re almost mediocre.”

A few of his notable Eastern disciples responded to that challenge by capturing top prizes in tennis.  For example, in 1951 John helped prepare Dick Savitt for his victory at Wimbledon.  And in 1954, Alan Roberts beat the heavy favorites to win the USLTA Boys’ 15-and-under Nationals in Kalamazoo, MI, by adhering to John’s strategy patterns.  Amazingly, Alan had never even been considered a dark horse.

John originally abandoned baseball for tennis at Crystal Gardens in Astoria, Queens.  “I was 15 or 16 and has this big western grip from baseball,” he says.  “I hit myself in the nose on a high forehand drive and figured these must be an easier way to play this game.  I tried every stroke and learned through trial and error.  I practiced on one of the first ball machines and learned to take the ball on the rise.  Then I challenged everybody and anybody, giving people two courts while confining myself to one.”

By age 17, he won the singles and doubles titles at Eastern’s junior sectional championships and went on to play No. 1 singles for St. John’s University.  He turned pro at 19 and earned the No. 2 professional ranking in the United States for three consecutive years-in 1943, ’44 and ’45.  While on the pro tour, he won 16 of 42 encounters against the great Don Budge, whom he faced in the semis of his first pro tournament.  He also toured with Budge promoting Wilson Sporting Goods all over the U.S. and Canada.

John’s teaching methods were so successful, he was invited to be the resident pro at various Long Island estates-at the Phippses and the Martins in Old Westbury and the Fairchilds in Lloyds Neck-and for several years lived at William DuPont’s estate in Delaware.  Through those associations, he worked with, and entertained, many of the great tennis names and celebrities of the 1930, ‘40s and ‘50’s-Louise Brough, Alice Marble, Bill Talbert, Margaret Osborne, Gussie Moran, Vic Seixas, Errol Flynn, Grace Kelly and other bright lights.

In the 1950s, the U.S. (Lawn) Tennis Association tapped John to work with Eastern’s top juniors throughout the summer-ETA Hall of Famer Ron Holmberg and Herb Fitz Gibbon among them-to make sure at least four boys qualified for the Nationals at Kalamazoo.  One year he actually secured qualifying berths for 20 youngsters, which was unheard of in those days.  His boys trusted him to the extent that they would call him from tournaments around the country for counsel.  “I can’t hit my forehand over the net,” was the usual cry for help.  “What should I do?”

“I worked with the kids on indoor courts at the Phipps’ estate,” recalls John, who also accompanied his boys to Eastern summer tournaments and chaperoned them at Kalamazoo.  “Mr. and Mrs. Phipps were very kind.  They would send down an elaborate buffet lunch that looked like a banquet on a movie set…In passing, I old Ogden Phipps I thought Alan Roberts could win Kalamazoo if I scouted his opponents and directed his patterns in each match.  I reasoned that most good players have all the shots but don’t know how to use them.  Mr. Phipps said ‘No way!  I’ll give you $100 if he does it.’ I gave Alan specific instructions every night and sure enough he won the tournament.  He’s an orthopedic surgeon in California now, but I won the hundred.”

John Teaches patterns and introduces students to the game’s “common denominators.”  First, there is always a weakness.  There’s no way the mind will accept two weapons on a given day, and since the mind always measures the forehand versus the backhand, one stroke suffers by comparison.  So you must compensate.  Second, when you hit a tennis ball, the key to accuracy depends on how well you go through the length of the four-foot timing box (which starts as your stroke goes forward and extends to where you direct and follow through on the shot) at a minimum of 20 miles per hour.  “The steady player has a four-foot timing box most often,” he says.  “However, when you hit harder, you have to be closer to the ball because the timing box becomes shorter.  You have to be quicker and prepare earlier.”

No discussion of John Norgay is complete with witnessing his wry sense of humor and gift for telling a good story.  “I used to teach a psychiatrist whose wife commented that I get paid more per hour than her husband,” he will muse.  “I said to her, ‘He’s just a psychiatrist.  I’m a tennis pro and a psychiatrist.’  That kept her quiet.”

He immediately follows with another anecdote.  “A psychiatrist named Harry couldn’t beat this friend Joe, who was also a psychiatrist,” says John.  “Harry said he’d like to take some lessons so he could beat Joe.  After a few weeks, Harry did beat Joe.  Then Joe came with Harry to one of his lessons and asked if could watch.  When Harry went in to change fro the lesson, Joe took $200 out of his pocket and said, ‘Here, throw the lesson.’ He was absolutely serious; he wanted me to put Harry back to where he was.”

Herb Fitz Gibbon, who regularly trained with John during his Eastern junior days, reminisces about his coach with a smile.  “I remember him as a nomadic type with a great sense of humor and a huge appetite for life.  He was always playing cards, going to the horse races, or making a deal to buy a new Cadillac.  He only got angry at me once-when he caught me playing basketball.”


Photo Credit: Steve Berman

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Hamilton F. Richardson | By Nancy Gill McShea

Hamilton Farrar Richardson was born in Baton Rouge, La. in 1933 and grew up as the personification of the “American Dream.”  He is a gentleman of diverse interests who as earned distinction in the elite circles of academia, tennis, business and politics.

Ham’s accomplishments are so numerous and the influences in his life so varied, any attempt to pinpoint a defining experience would be folly.  Certainly his origins gave him a good head start.  When he and his three brothers distinguished themselves in college as members of Phi Beta Kappa, they were simply upholding a proud family tradition.  Ham’s maternal grandfather, Hamilton Johnson, had been a Phi Beta Kappa at Vanderbilt University; and both his parents, Cary and Roger Richardson (a writer-sculptress, and dean of engineering at Louisiana State University and a research engineer for Standard Oil of New Jersey, respectively) achieved that honor at LSU.

Yet Ham’s response to a childhood illness might well have been the defining moment of his life.  “At 15, I discovered I had diabetes,” offers Ham, who in 1956 was honored with the Joslin Award for outstanding service to diabetes, and who has served as director of both the American Association and the Juvenile Foundation for Diabetes.  “It matured me.  Like most kids, I was not very disciplined, and a challenge is always good.  Diabetes gave me more determination to prove I was a good as anyone else…I didn’t regard it as much worse than a cold because Bill Talbert had it.  And if he could be a great tennis champion, there was no reason I couldn’t be.”

Indeed in 1954, barely four years after he was diagnosed, Ham experienced a memorable year when he was a junior at Tulane.  In quick succession he repeated as the NCAA and Southeastern Conference tennis champion, won the USLTA national Father/Son doubles title with his dad (for the second time), was a member of the victorious American U.S. Davis Cup team (and a part-time playing captain as well), and was honored with the William Johnston Award for outstanding sportsmanship and service to tennis.  Off the court, the U.S. Junior Chamber of Commerce names him as one of the “Ten Most Outstanding Young Men in America,” an honor he shared with Chuck Yeager, Sen. Ernest Hollings and Robert F. Kennedy, among others.  Ham was the youngest man ever to receive the award.

In 1955, when he graduated number one in his class from Tulane with a B.A. degree in Economics, Ham was one of 32 people selected to study as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University’s Trinity College in England.  Among his group were Reynolds Price, a famous author and professor at Duke; and Senators Paul Sarbanes of Maryland and Richard Lugar of Indiana.  “An extraordinary group of people,” say Ham, who acknowledges that tennis was an important factor in his selection.

In 1956, while he was still studying toward B.S. and M.A. degrees at Oxford’s Honours School of Philosophy, Politics. And Economics (from which he graduated in 1957), he also claimed the No.1 tennis ranking in the United States.  He reclaimed the No. 1 U.S. ranking in 1958, the year he won the doubles title (with Alex Olmedo) at the U.S. National Championships in Forest Hills.  He ranked among this country’s top 10 for 11 years, posted a 20-2 record in his seven-year stint as a playing member of the U.S. Davis Cup team (17 of those wins in singles, placing him seventh on America’s all-time list with Barry MacKay) and won more than 50 tournaments in his career, including 17 U.S. national titles.  In addition, he was elected as the original inductee into both the Tulane and Southern Tennis Halls of Fame, and he is a member of the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame.

Kevin Richardson, who was twice a finalist with his father at the USTA Father/Son National Championships-in 1975 and ’77-cooroborates his father’s belief that overcoming diabetes and achieving success in tennis gave him a strong sense of himself.  “…Tennis gave him a confidence that led to success in other fields,” says Kevin, who writes for the Newark Star Ledger.  “He’s very focused, loves challenges and viewed tennis that way.  (His friend) Bill Talbert demonstrated that he could be a diabetic and still be a tennis champion.”

Kevin adds that his father loves to teach (especially doubles strategy) and is incredibly knowledgable.  Business is his career, yet his interest in politics is ongoing.  For example, Ham first worked for Senator Russell Long (from 1957 to 1960) as a legislative assistant and executive secretary, later served as the New York City finance chairman for Richard Gephardt’s 1988 presidential campaign, and has been a supporter and a financial backer of Mayor Dinkins.  He is also a financial consultant for the National Commission on Urban Growth Problems and the director of the CORO Foundation, which trains young people who are interested in a public service career.

Ham has engaged in various phases of the securities industry since 1960, when he joined Smith, Barney & Co.  He was affiliated with several other investment firms until the 1970s when he moved to New York and became in independent investor and a principal in investor groups.   In 1979, he formed Richardson & Associates, a privately held venture capital and investment banking firm, of which he is chairman of the board.

“No one ever doubted that Ham was going to achieve in life,” reasons Gene Scott, a longtime acquaintance who competed against him in the early ‘60s. 

“It was just a question of which direction he would choose.  The obvious pursuits for any kid are sports and academics.  Chararcterstically, Ham took on both when most rivals would have opted for one or the other.  Presto, a Rhodes Scholar and America’s No. 1 tennis player!”

When asked to cite his proudest achievements, Ham Richardson mentions the thrill of being in contention for top honors in national Father/Son competition over a span of two generations-first winning with his father, and later reaching the finals with his son Kevin.  “And I am very proud of my family,” he says, “my three children: Kevin Kenneth and Kathryn; and my wife, Midge.”

Photo Credit: Steve Berman

 

 

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