ARVELIA MYERS | by Cara Griffin
Arvelia Myers began her tennis career sitting on a bench as she looked on at her friends playing on the courts. She liked what she saw, got off of the bench and onto the court. She hasn’t looked back since.
“I started to play and I just fell in love with the game,” recalls Myers. “A friend of mine played and asked to watch. I started hitting against the wall and I picked it up and then just got a chance to get out on the courts and everything just grew from there.”
A shy and humble person, Myers needed a little push from her friends to make her take her game to the next level.
“My friends got me to start playing New York City parks tournaments,” recalls Myers. “People were sort of having to push me because I was not very competitive and a bit shy. But I started to do well and I began playing in the American Tennis Association.”
Myers went on to become a ranked player in the ATA, at one time achieving a No. 3 national ATA ranking, and winning the ATA women’s national doubles in 1973.
“Tennis has been my friend,” said Myers. “Just from playing I have met so many people. They see me with a racquet and they say, ‘You play?’ And they say ‘where?’ And I tell them.”
And what a story it is to tell. In 1973, Myers founded the Pyramid Tennis Association, and in the quarter century since, she has influenced scores of New York City youngsters in a positive way.
“She has this special way about her,” says friend and student Sheila Jones. “Because her philosophy is that there is enough seriousness and stress in life. Tennis is just fun.”
Making the game fun is important, but Myers will tell you that her main goal is to instill self confidence in her young students, making sure that they believe that they can succeed not only in tennis, but also in life.
“The Pyramid Tennis Association was founded as a program to help young people, particularly African Americans in building self esteem and a sense of achievement,” says Myers. “I am sneaky, because of course the real goal is to be sure they get an education, but I just sneak that in there. Not everyone can be a tennis champion, but youngsters have a lot to gain through sport.”
Myers says her idol has always been Arthur Ashe. She met Arthur when he was just a boy and she was playing in adult ATA Tournaments.
“He was this little thing, all arms and legs,” she recalls. “I remember he was sitting on a bench really quietly watching the adults play. I told people, as they say in the Bible, hew was taking names. And he was, because before long he could beat all of the adults.
“I called him my son,” she says. “We were really never buddy buddy or anything, but we knew each other. In those days, when our kids played in tournaments, they would stay with people ’in the family’ and he sometimes stayed with me n New York. I always knew Arthur would be a champion. I idolized his department and felt he was a great example for young people.”
The young people in Myers’ Pyramid Tennis Association program receive tutoring and are checked up on in school to make sure their grades are satisfactory. This is all part of Myers’ aim to be sure each student gives his or her self the chance to get a college education.
“The real skilled players can get tennis scholarships and they may not become pros, says Myers, “but they decide from there where they want to go. It gives them options. If a player is not so skilled, well at least they are building confidence through playing. They must have good grades to stay in the program, so maybe they can get a scholarship that way.”
In addition to the Pyramid Tennis Association, Arvelia has worked with countless other programs in the city, serving as a mentor and a role model for literally thousands of youngsters.
Although the programs run year round, Arvelia’s favorite time is the summer.
“In the summers we are out in the public parks,” says Myers. “It means a lot to me to be out there teaching on the same courts that I learned on.”
Even those who might not see her on the public courts may have been touched by her love for the game. Myers is one of the loyal USTA information booth volunteers who helps spread the word to the hundreds of thousands of fans at Flushing Meadow each year.
“Arvelia has always been on of our most loyal volunteers,” says long time friend and USTA Volunteer booth coordinator Barbara Williams.
“She has been a very important person to children,” continues Williams. “In term of education, she has always been a leader in having people continue on and go to college. Education has always been paramount to her.”
What one most gets the sense of from Arvelia Myers is that she has built her life around tennis in order to give back what the game has given to her.
“the most satisfying thing is when they (students) go through college and come back home and call me and let me know how they are doing.”
“If a kid does not have a racquet, I try to get one in his hand,” she said. “I am a shy person and tennis has opened a lot of doors for me. It helps bring people out of their shells. It helped me, and I try to do that for others.”
Photo Credit: Steve Berman
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JOHN McENROE | by Cara Griffin
Possibly the most well known tennis player of all time, John McEnroe the player was equal parts rebel and genius. His delicate touch and artistry being rivaled only by his effusive emotions and undying desire to win.
And while the decade of dominance of the 1980s showcased John’s skills to the entire world, it was in our own backyard that it all began.
“The first time I saw John he was hitting against a wall at the Douglaston Club,” recalls Dan Dwyer, who served as John’s coach until McEnroe was 11 years old. “He was eight years old at the time. I remember it very vividly because I had some experience with mentally challenged kids who would hit against the wall over and over and over. I was watching John from a distance as he hit for hours and hours. Of course when I went over to him, I saw that he was anything but mentally challenged.”
After working with John for a few years, Dwyer knew that McEnroe was something special.
“When he was 11, I said ‘Kid, someday you will be playing at Forest Hills,’” recalls Dwyer. “He was by far the most mentally and physically talented player I have ever seen.”
“He was always so smart and he really worked tremendously hard. He never went through that stage that all other kids go through of trying to kill the ball. He always had the strokes that he used his mind on the court right from the start.”
Although this unique style is what has made John’s game so special in fan’s eyes, it took a while for some players to respect it.
“I first met John when he was 12 and I was 16,” recalls longtime doubles partner and fellow New Yorker Peter Fleming. “I thought he was pretty good, but nothing special. I had heard how good he was and I started bragging that I could beat this kid. I was so sure that I could beat him that I said I would give him a 4-0, 30-0 lead in every set.
“I lost 5 sets in a row. I realized right then that John doesn’t miss anything and he doesn’t ever give up.”
After blazing through the Eastern junior ranks, John landed with a splash at the French Open and Wimbledon in 1977 as an 18 year old amateur.
He won his first Grand Slam title at the French that year, teaming with Mary Carillo to win the mixed doubles crown. He continued his success at the year’s next Grand Slam, not simply by making his way through the qualifying draw, but by advancing all the way to the semifinals of Wimbledon. John’s eight match wins the year in so doing he became the youngest Wimbledon semifinalist in 100 years
“It never really hit us, what was going on,” recalls brother Patrick, who was just turning 11 years old at the time of John’s Wimbledon breakthrough. “I remember thinking, ‘Wow, he made the semis at Wimbledon.’ There were camera crews in our house. It was pretty wild. After that it all seemed pretty normal.”
Before traveling to the French and Wimbledon in 1977, John had signed a letter of intent to play at Stanford in the fall, but coach Dick Gould was beginning to dread each triumph McEnroe scored.
“I had never even seen John play when we recruited him,” revealed Gould. “He was just the best player with the best grades in the country that year. He hadn’t played adult tournaments so I had no idea the talent I was getting. Then John traveled to Wimbledon and he qualified and then made this run to the semifinals, and I thought ‘Oh no, we are never going to see him here’. One of the nicest days of my life was driving up to the airport and picking him up.”
John played college tennis for just one year, winning the NCAA singles title as a freshman in 1978 before his immense talent virtually required that he turn pro.
The pro ranks were cluttered with legends at the time, those on their way up and those on their way out. Borg, Connors, Lendl, Vilas, Gerulaitis, Ashe. It did not take long for McEnroe to carve out his own legend with a win at the year end Masters in ’78 and his first Grand Slam tournament singles win at the 1979 U.S. Open at the age of 20. John won three Wimbledon and four U.S. Open singles titles in all and earned the number one ranking in the world for four straight years, from 1981 to 1984. The latter stands alone as his most impressive year. He won 13 of 15 tournaments and lost just three matches while winning 82.
“I think the consistency of that year was incredible,” says Patrick. “He was playing at such a high level, he just completely dominated. To lose just 3 matches in a year, that just doesn’t happen today. And he was playing his best matches on the biggest occasions.”
In the 1984 Wimbledon final, John beat Jimmy Connors 6-1, 6-2, 6-2. In the 1984 U.S. Open final, Ivan Lendl fell 6-3, 6-4, 6-1.
Someone who appreciated first hand John’s talent is Fleming. Together, he and John won eight Grand Slam doubles and compiled a 14-1 Davis Cup doubles match record.
“I died and went to heaven when we started playing together,” admits Fleming. “The education I got being his doubles partner and his friend, very few people on earth could be so luck. He is a person who people have a unique reaction to. That makes him special.”
What makes him special in terms of United States players has been his dedication to Davis cup. John helped the U.S. capture the Davis Cup five times between 1978 and 1992, often serving double duty in singles and doubles. For him, the team always came first.
“I remember one road trip down in Texas where we had to battle Kevin Curren and Larry Gottfried and John had a 104 degree fever,” recalls Gould of Johns year on the team at Stanford. “I knew there was no way he could play. But sure enough he played singles and doubles in one day to help us win. There was no way he would stay out of a match. Anytime the bell rang he was there. You could see that in his commitment to Davis Cup. He has fierce loyalty to the team.”McEnroe’s last Grand Slam singles win came at the ’84 U.S. Open, but his success continued in doubles, as he picked up one more title each at the U.S. Open and Wimbledon before unofficially hanging up the racket in 1992. John had spent sixteen years in the United States top ten and a decade in the world’s top ten.
The recently married McEnroe has time for a lot more than tennis nowadays. In addition to playing on the Nuveen Masters circuit and broadcasting at select tournaments, McEnroe channels his energy into the music of his Johnny Smyth band and the success of his acclaimed art gallery.
“Although John has the reputation for his personality, there is another side to him,” says Dwyer. He has done countless clinics for kids in which he goes no publicity, nor does he want any. And he and his family have always been tremendous supporters of Eastern tennis.”
With his competitive playing days behind him, the players on John’s team now are wife Patty and his four children, Kevin, Sean, Emily, and Anna.
“John is a great father,” says Patrick. “His kids are the center of his life. I think people can see that side of him now. It is something he is proud about. He has a great affinity for his family.”
Photo Credit: Steve Berman
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ROBERT J. GARRY | by Cara Griffin
When Bob Garry joined the United States Tennis Associate as its first controller in 1970, the membership of the organization was 50,000 and the annual operating budget was less than one half million dollars.
Now, 27 years later, a few things have changed. Garry’s role within the association has grown, and in turn so has the USTA. Under the recent staff reorganization, Garry is the Director of the Administration Division at the USTA, and is responsible for the approximately $130 million dollar operating budget which he has aided the USTA in gaining through his expertise over the past 27 years.
And while all of this is impressive, and indicative of the kind of dedication and intelligence which Garry brings to his position, it is his service above and beyond the call of duty that brings him to this induction ceremony here tonight.
“Before I stared with the USTA, I was working with Arthur Andersen,” Garry said. My wife was complaining that I worked too much overtime.”
When One of Andersen’s clients, the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association was searching for some help, Garry’s name popped up and he soon found himself with a new job. Yet, if you are trying to reach Bob Garry early in the morning or in the evening, or even on the weekend, he’s probably working. Suffice it to say, wife Kathy has not solved the overtime problem.
“Right before he took the job at the USTA, I was pregnant,” says Kathy. “He was working weekends and nights, Of course, at the USTA he has worked even more, but it has been fun.
“We have been to places we never would have been to and we have really grown up with the USTA.”
When Garry first started at the USTA, the association had seven full time employees. That number has now grown to approximately 200 including the sections.
Working with Eastern’s Junior Tennis Foundation, Garry has been involved with similar growth. The JTF is the beneficiary of the Hall of Fame, and the success of the event, coupled with Garry’s work as treasurer has enabled the Foundation to donate over $130,000 in grants over the past two years to tennis programs for juniors and for the mentally and physically challenged.
One of his many topics of concern at the USTA lately has been the U.S. Open construction project. The new stadium is sort of a novelty in the building of professional sports stadiums because the USTA is virtually taking the entire cost on itself.
“When he is on his vacation and we are not away, he sneaks into the office at night and checks over all of his mail just to catch up,” reveals Kathy. “Otherwise he says it would take him three weeks to catch up,”
And when the opening ceremony of the new USTA National Tennis Center and Arthur Ashe Stadium takes place later this year, it will have special significance for Garry. The neighborhood is familiar for him, as he grew up in Woodside, just a miss-hit away from both Forrest Hills and the National Tennis Center.
“I went to the same grammar school as (USTA President) Harry Marmion,” says Garry. “Of course, 15 years apart. We never played tennis in my neighborhood as kids, that just wasn’t a sport that kids played. We were more into baseball and basketball.”
This summer when the public facility’s new design is unveiled, it will be two boys from Woodside who can stand proudly and say they helped make it happen.
How Garry has found time in addition to his national tennis duties to help out the Junior Tennis foundation, wheelchair, tennis, local little league baseball and various other organizations is a question even Kathy can’t answer.
“He is so quite about it that I don’t even know all the things he is doing,” says Kathy. “Sometimes I am even surprised. One time we were at an annual meeting and he was being introduced and they were talking about all the things he is involved in and I looked at the person next to me and said ‘is this the same guy I live with?’”
Photo Credit: Steve Berman
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WILLIAM DONALD McNEILL | by Cara Griffin
In 1940, Don McNeill had a year that contemporaries such as Jack Kramer, Bobby Riggs and Billy Talbert could only envy. That year he won the U.S Open, the National Collegiate singles and the U.S. National Clay Courts.
He was only 22, and at the peak of his playing career, but over the next five years, McNeill would not be playing much tennis.
World War II called, and McNeill answered, enlisting in the navy and spending time as a naval attaché in Buenos Aires before serving as an air commander in the Pacific. 1940 would stand alone as the best year of McNeill’s career, and one might conclude that the years stolen by the war would have been years dominated by Don McNeill.
“I would have to say that Don was the best player in the world in 1940,” says former U.S. Davis cup player and a doubles partner of McNeill’s in the 1940s, Frank Guernsey. “Bobby Riggs had been considered the number one player, but then Don had a great year and he beat Riggs in the U.S. finals. With the wart, and Don joining the navy he was basically through playing tennis until 1946.”
McNeill won his last major championship, the U.S. Indoors in 1950, but his greatest legacy as a player was his brilliant run in 1939 and 1940.
“The war interrupted many careers back then and unfortunately, my father’s was one of them,” said McNeill’s daughter, Margaret McNeill Law. “If not, things would have been much different, to say the least.”
And while it is true that McNeill’s trophy case would have been a bit fuller had the war no occurred, it was doubtful that you would have heard him complaining.
“By the time we were growing up, he was not playing anymore, at least not seriously,” says Margaret of her late father, who passed away in November at the age of 78. “He missed today’s game’s money, that all came along too late for him. But thanks to tennis he was able to travel the world and really do some amazing things.”
McNeill’s talents brought him a tennis scholarship to Ohio’s Kenyon University in the late ‘30s and in 1939 he was one of four American men invited to play an exhibition tennis tour in the Far East. This experience afforded McNeill the opportunity to go tiger hunting in India, to meet the Maharishi and in general, to live the life of royalty.
“I don’t think players can do that today because it is such a grind,” said Margaret. “But he was very lucky in that way. He led a wonderful life.”
In the midst of this traveling exhibition tour in 1939, McNeill was abler to fine tune his game against the world’s best players. By the time he reached Paris, McNeill was primed and ready to win the French Open. He did that in fine form, beating nemesis and world No.1 Riggs in the final.
“Don was a baseline player,” says Guernsey. “And he just hit the ball so hard. He had a great serve and great ground-strokes. He was not a net-rusher, but he came in when he had the chance.”
McNeill grew up in Oklahoma and spent summers traveling throughout the Midwest and Southwest, playing the bigger junior tournaments. He and Riggs had been battling each other since they were boys.
When the two met in the1940 U.S. final at Forest Hills, it was a contrast in personalities. McNeill was known as a gentleman, and Riggs more of a showman. Riggs went up two sets to none, but McNeill won the next two sets to set up in all or nothing fifth set.
After each man took one service break apiece, the score stood at 5-6 in the fifth with Riggs serving.
McNeill would later recall, “Three things stand out in my memory of the last game with Riggs serving at 5-6. Riggs was unable to persuade the umpire that he had not touched the net and lost a point to make it 0-15. Undecided whether to throw the next point because Riggs swore he hadn’t touched the net, I knocked his serve out. Although I had done this unintentionally, the fans cheered wildly, interpreting my bad return as a gesture of good sportsmanship. Score 15-all.
“On my first match point Riggs got to the net and made a fine volley, and I fell flat on my face trying to get a fast start for it. Then he had game advantage, when I hit an impossible forehand cross-court passing shot-the best I ever hit in my life. It couldn’t have come at a better time, as it so unnerved Riggs that he missed two difficult low volleys coming in behind his serve at deuce and match point. I got the feeling he was desperate. Riggs approaching the net after his service was a surprise...several years before his time and besides he wasn’t that good of a volleyer.” McNeill prevailed 4-6, 6-8, 6-3, 7-5.
After serving in the war, McNeill settled down into the life of an advertising man on Madison Avenue. He raised his children and continued to play in his spare time. Winning the US National Indoors in 1950 marked one last show in his greatness.
He would work for several advertising firms over the next few decades, playing an integral part in the Sanka “The coffee that lets you sleep” campaign. As his playing career receded further and further into the past, Margaret recalls her dad saying he would be “blown off the court” by the likes of McEnroe, Connors and Sampras.
“He loved to watch,” she recalls. “He would watch as much tennis as possible on television. He was an arm chair coach and he would snicker at their antics.”
“I asked him once what he was most proud of. And as he thought about it, I was expecting him to say winning the French or U.S Open, but he said it was a sportsmanship award. He had won just a little silver plate, but it was what he was most proud of. He was a gentleman.”
Photo courtesy of International Hall of Fame Website
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