BETTY ROSENQUEST PRATT | by Nancy Gill McShea
If your a young girl who takes for granted her right to go the distance in sports along with the boy next door, tip your cap to Betty Rosenquest Pratt, who almost 60 years ago qualified for the second singles spot on her South Orange, N.J. high school boys’ tennis team, and didn’t give up when she got the boot for winning a match in competition. Girls’ teams didn’t exist, Betty said, but the state athletic association decided it would be mentally harmful to young boys if girls beat them at their own game. She practiced instead at the Berkeley Tennis Club with her tennis buddy, Dick Savitt, who went on to win the 1951 Wimbledon men’s singles titles.
Now fast forward about 25 years to 1966, and if you’re a woman who plays in a local tennis league to indulge her competitive fantasies, credit Betty for co-founding the National Women’s Tennis Association to give you a realistic goal. Until then, women aged 40 to 80 played one of the few nationals available—the over 40 grass courts at Point Judith, R.I.—and now there are more than 80 national titles up for grabs (in both singles and doubles in multiple age groups).
Betty turned 73 last week and reminisced about her life in tennis with a radiance you would expect from someone who just last month was chauffeured in a bright yellow, 1926 Chevrolet convertible to her home courts at the Racquet Club at Heathrow in Florida to watch the unveiling of the newly named “Betty Pratt Stadium.” She speaks with the certainty of an athlete who was once ranked fifth in the United States, among the world’s top-ten, and who played center court in the semifinal round of singles at Wimbledon and the U.S. National Championships.
“I am more competitive than athletic,” Betty said, correcting the observation.
The real message in Betty’s story, though, is that she has hurdled life’s passages with grace, evolving from a four-time “World Tennis” magazine cover girl, who had a youthful fling in Grand slam events, into a respected senior player. She has managed to juggle career, marriage and family and hang on to her competitive – yet generous – spirit. During the 1950s and early ‘60s, she helped her husband Carroll Pratt direct the Caribbean tennis circuit and together they raised their three children – John, Anne, and Richard. She has taught tennis professionally for over 20 years, won 75 U.S. Tennis Association national senior titles, six ITF world championships and captained the U.S. Wightman and Federation Cup teams.
Her trophy shelf is filled with memories of battles won and lost and honors earned for sportsmanship and volunteer service. In 1943 she won the national Junior Tennis Sports Award and was named captain of the first Junior Wightman Cup team. “I made the national junior semis twice,” she said. “Unfortunately, Doris Hart was my age, but I once had her match point.”
Betty moved on to Rollins College in Florida to study English and psychology, and in her senior year won the Algernon Sidney Sullivan Award for citizenship. “When I was at Rollins we entertained the troops at bases and hospitals by playing tennis against the officers. The enlisted men loved it when we beat them.” She said. In the 1960s the USTA honored her with the Marlboro and Service Bowl Awards for outstanding contributions to the game as a volunteer and player.
“I loved tennis from the start,” said Betty, whose family doctor suggested when she was ten that she give up touch football and play golf or tennis to channel her nervous energy. Her dad knew she loved to run so they chose tennis. Her dad also knew she was a tomboy when she came home furious one day because Teddy Palmer had grabbed her books and run. She ran after him, hit him over the head and got the books back. Dad said, “That’s a mistake; your not supposed to catch him.”
She first played tennis in Bronxville, N.Y., and Alice Marble was her idol. “I wore shorts and a cap like she did and tried to emulate her aggressive, all-court game,” Betty said. She moved to South Orange at age 14 and developed that style practicing with Savitt. “I was two years older than Dick, so I was the aggressor. All he did was run and get the ball back. Then he went away for a year. When he came back he had grown four or five inches and so had his game. He beat me easily.”
There were few indoor courts in the East, so Betty’s dad drove her to play at the Harlem Armory in Manhattan every Friday night. She first met Althea Gibson there , who would beat her, 11-9, 6-1, in the semis of the 1956 U.S. Nationals.
Betty made six trips to Wimbledon and considered two of them especially memorable. In 1954 she lost in the semis to Maureen Connolly. “She killed me,” Betty said, “but I was thrilled to be there. I won the equivalent of $75 and a bronze medal.” In 1957 she played England’s new hope, Christine Truman, in the quarterfinals. “When I walked into the stadium I knew I wasn’t just playing one person; this was very special. We had wonderful points in a close three setter. There was an exhilaration; I was playing at the peak of competition in my mind. I felt in a way I had even won the crowd near the end. When Chris boomed the last forehand away and won, I ran up to the net as though I had won. I was very excited for her because England had waited so long for someone to come through.
“Tennis has been my life.” Betty Rosenquest Pratt said. “I’ve made friends all over the world. When you arrive in a country with a tennis racquet in your hand you get an entirely different greeting. You don’t even have to speak the same language. We are welcomed into homes instead of going to museums and looking in from the outside.
“I feel I’ll be playing until they pick me up, find another partner for my partner and carry on the game.”
Photo Credit: Edward Goldman
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DANIEL B. DWYER | by Nancy Gill McShea
Danny Dwyer is the Johnny Carson of tennis. He disarms audiences with the same sly charm as Carson, the same edgy sense of humor and the tenacity to put himself on the line for decades. Danny doesn’t have an Ed McMahon to keep his show rolling, but his staff at the Point Set Indoor Racquet Club helps him tone down the “I want it done now” mentality he brings to the business of recruiting people to the game.
“When you play Danny, all you have to do is kick your serve to his backhand and you’ll win,” joked veteran Point Set coach and referee Perry Aitchison. Danny’s first retort to that news was unprintable. Then he bantered: “Ten years ago I would have run around my backhand; today I’ll only play Perry if he’s blindfolded.”
Danny has the classic Irish temper dipped in honey. He’s an optimist his brother, Jim, and sister-in-law, Marty, say. He believes the best is yet to come—especially to those who are a little less powerful. If he thinks a cause is worth it, he never looks back. The Dwyers cited a 1962 national incident Danny became involved in when he was playing tennis on scholarship at St. Edwards’s University in Austin, Texas. Acting as president of the student government, he sent a congratulatory telegram to James Meredith, the first African-American to be accepted into the University of Mississippi. His gesture showed up in local newspapers, he received death threats from the Ku Klux Klan and 20 classmates stood guard outside his dormitory room.
Brother Raymond Fleck, C.S.C., the university’s president, summoned him to his office. Danny said, “You can’t tell me that sending the telegram to Meredith was wrong. It’s what you taught us.” Brother Fleck replied,” It’s not wrong. But maybe you could do it more quietly in the future. We just lost a $10,000 donation.”
“I’m a rebel if there’s a cause.” Danny said. “I’ve spent most of my life trying to eliminate prejudice of any kind; it’s the biggest waste of human energy.”
In the late 1970’s, he got a phone call from a wheelchair athlete who wanted to enter a tennis tournament. He quickly made Point Set wheelchair-accessible and began hosting one of the country’s first, free wheelchair tennis clinics. By the mid-1980’s, he had founded the National Tennis Association for the Disabled and the international Lichtenberg Buick-Mazda wheelchair tournament. He became the USTA’s first wheelchair committee chairman, and this past January was one of five people appointed—and the only American—to serve on the ITF wheelchair committee.
Danny’s children, Shawn and Kimberly, grew up feeling comfortable around physically and mentally challenged people. George McFadden once beat Bobby Curran in a wheelchair match, took a shower and walked out of the locker room wearing his prosthesis. Kimberly, then 7, ran to her father in tears: “Daddy, we have to disqualify that man; he beat Bobby, and he can walk.”
In Danny’s world, tennis-careers-in-the-making seem to depend on who’s picking up the tennis balls. In 1952 at age 12, he retrieved balls for Alex Mayer at the Burwood courts in Flushing for 25 cents an hour just to hear what the great coach had to say. Every once in a while, Mayer would give him 20 minutes of his time. “I started as a maintenance person and became a club manager,” Danny said. “You never know what’s going to happen.”
A young Mary Carillo picked up tennis balls for Danny at the Douglaston Club and you know what happened to her: She went on to win a Grand Slam title and become one of the sport’s most visible television analysts.
“I would stand outside the fence and listen to him teach. He didn’t realize he was teaching two people.” Mary remembers. “We all grew up with Danny. He totally shaped my life. You always wanted to catch hi eye. He had such a presence and still does. When I was inducted into Eastern’s Hall of Fame (in 1994) my brother Charles said; ‘Good God, he looks like a Monsignor now.’”
She asked Danny that night how much he charged back then. “He said 8 bucks and hour. Then I said, I owe you about $400,000. Will you take a check?”
Danny tells his junior students their goal should be No. 1 in the world. When parents tell him their kids just want a respectable ranking for a college scholarship, his answer is: “You wouldn’t complain if I was pushing your child to get into Harvard. Go for the gold even if you only wind up with a bronze. Otherwise, why play tennis?”
He had used that tactic with ten-year-old John McEnroe, when McEnroe won a tournament at the Douglaston Club. “You will play at Forest Hills some day,” Danny told him, and it worked! He has challenged other famous Eastern Juniors he’s worked with—among them Sandy and Gene Mayer—and they took him seriously, too.
“Danny was there at the beginning,” John McEnroe said. “He helped me when we first joined the Club and started to learn the game. I want to personally thank him tonight on behalf of myself and my family for being there.”
Danny has risen through the ranks as a player and coach to become one of the game’s most visible national and international administrators. He is manager and part owner of Point Set in Oceanside, N.Y. He has also been the head pro at the Woodmere Country Club for 40 years. For four years, he was a tournament director at the New York City Mayor’s Cup, the world’s largest interscholastic event, with over 800 participants. He chaired the Catholic High School Tennis League when he taught biology and English at his alma mater, Holy Cross, in Flushing. He has served in every volunteer position on the USTA/Eastern Board, from Long Island regional vice president to president of the Section and the Junior Tennis Foundation. He was among the first sectional leaders to support league and schools programs for recreational players. He has also been inducted into the St. Edward’s and Holy Cross Halls of Fame.
“He’s compassionate,” Danny’s brother Jim said. “He could have made more money when he graduated from college, but he went back to teach at Holy Cross to repay them for helping him get a scholarship. He’s the champion of those who need a break. He’ll push them forward. It doesn’t’ always work but he never gives up. He follows through.”
“Danny is a blessing.” Marty Dwyer added. “He’s Santa Claus.”
Photo Credit: Edward Goldman
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FRANK M. HAMMOND | by Nancy Gill McShea
Chances are you can tap your memory bank and run an instant reply of Frank Hammond’s tennis career. Frank was the irrepressible official who was so intensely immersed in his craft, he allowed you to peek into his soul when he as calling a match. His resonant voice still echoes through the corridors of the sport almost three years after his death from Lou Gehrig’s disease on November 23, 1995.
“Frank addressed the crowd like a conductor,” his friend George Plimpton said at a memorial service for Hammond in his native Manhattan.
“To Frank, being a personality was at least as important as being an official,” his friend Gene Scott added recently.
Frank’s flair for the dramatic gave him a visibility comparable to the players. When in the chair, he leaned forward with a sense of urgency to get a clearer view and on the line; he virtually grazed the court with his nose and chin. He was so reliable; he was chosen to preside at famous tennis arenas all over the world. He was so recognizable, tennis fans clamored for his autograph.
Known as “Buddy” to his family, Frank was an active junior player in the 1940s who found his niche at age 15 when a dispute was brewing on a California tennis court. “Someone said, “Get out there Frank and keep score,” his sister Joan Hammond Brewster remembers. By the 1970’s he had become the first full-time professional linesman and umpire. He called lines at the U.S. Open for 34 years and worked the chair for 35 years. He is the only person who won the Junior and Senior McGovern Awards for umpire service to tennis. He was also a wheelchair tennis board member and worked with underprivileged and handicapped children.
According to Bud Collins’ “Modern Encyclopedia of Tennis,” Frank once said he umpired more than 5,000 matches and ran 500 tournaments as a referee without one major incident. But in the blink of an eye during the 1979 U.S. Open at Flushing Meadows, Frank lost control of a second-round match between John McEnroe and Ilie Nastase. The debacle turned into the nightmarish “15 minutes of fame” that would dog the meticulous umpire – yet give him even more celebrity—for life. Television news broadcasts flashed images of Frank disqualifying Nastase in the fourth set for stalling, and his discourse with the players still reverberates on the air in famous sports clips.
A near-riot had erupted in the crowd. Spectators booed for almost 20 minutes, and some ran onto the court while others began fighting in the audience. The tournament referee, Mike Blanchard, relieved Frank of his chair duties and climbed into the chair himself following a directive from Bill Talbert, the tournament assumed. McEnroe won and went on to beat his New York friend, Vitas Gerulaitis, for his first U.S. Open singles title.
“That match was one of the few times I behaved.” John said, “But Ilie was begging, pleading to be defaulted. Frank was unfairly removed from the chair which basically ruined his career.
“Frank was my favorite umpire. I hope that’s a compliment! He always tried to encourage players as opposed to reprimanding them. I wish he had been inducted with me last year (into Eastern’s Hall of Fame).”
Frank’s rapport with the players seems to be his real legacy. He once told his sister Joan: “Andre Agassi is a very good and thoughtful young man. When he thought I was dying…he came to visit me in the hospital with Brooke Shields and gave me a “Born Again” bible. He wrote inside, ‘To the Greatest Umpire That Ever Was. I’m going to miss you. You’ll always be in my prayers.’”
Gene Scott can tell you a hundred stories about Frank. “In a world where not everybody is nice—people can be grumpy—he was fun to be around. Everywhere we went, he went.” said Gene, who enlisted Frank to help him run five professional tournaments (in Westchester, Orange, N.J., the Bahamas, the Nabisco Masters in New York and the Kremlin Cup in Russia).
“Frank was a great ally for our tournaments. He was our master of ceremonies, our official on-court announcer, our referee. He was our host.”
Gene remembers that Frank also had a very “Frank Mouth.” During his illness, Gene kept a constant vigil at his friend’s bedside, often accompanied by his daughter, Lucy, and his wife, Polly, who at the time was expecting their second child, Sam. When the disease had sapped Frank of his ability to speak, or even to write, Gene would go alone and devise ways to perk up his friend’s spirits. “You can’t keep a secret,” Gene said to him one day. “No one knows the gender of my unborn child except me. It’s a boy, and you can’t tell anyone.” Frank started crying from laughing so hard. Tears were running down his cheeks. Six days later he died. Frank once said in assessing his career, “I can honestly say I never showboated in my life. I used my voice to control everyone, tried to thank the crowd in different ways and tried not to use the same phraseology all the time…You don’t want everyone imitating Frank Hammond because that would be the worst thing for the game. But what you do want are people in the chair who are going to overrule calls and do the job with consistency.”
“Buddy wanted to be player,” Joan said, recalling that her brother worked hard at tennis when he attended Iona Prep in New Rochelle, N.Y., and played first singles for the Blair Academy tennis team in Blairstown, N.J. “He couldn’t go too far because he had polycystic kidney disease. Instead, he started calling lines. In tennis, he grew from Buddy into Frank. Tennis gave him his self respect.”
Photo Credit: Unknown
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JOHN R. REESE | by Nancy Gill McShea
John Reese has attained international stature in tennis circles as a volunteer chairman of the International Hall of Fame in Newport R.I. He has taught his daughters, Victoria and Augusta, by example that a regard for humanity and quality volunteer work will determine their legacy more than titles earned in business, or even in tennis—his lifelong passion.
Arthur Ashe recalled in his memoir, “Days of Grace,” that he “felt anxiety rising” as he approached a good friends black-tie birthday party the day after he told the world he had AIDS. He wondered how the other guest would respond to him. “The first person I saw was an old friend, John Reese,” Ashe wrote. “An investment banker now, in his youth John had been an up-and-coming star with me in junior tennis. He saw me, and hurried over. There was no mistaking the warmth of his greeting, his genuine concern but also his understanding of my predicament. We walked inside together and I had a fine time at the celebration.”
Hope Reese, John’s wife of 31 years, said, “Embracing a friend who is in trouble is important to John. He knows instinctively that a gesture can have a powerful impact on someone. One of the reasons he has been so successful as a fund-raiser and volunteer is that he finds his own rewards in life. I would use the words integrity and generosity to describe him.”
Thos character traits can be traced to his origins. John’s parents, Frances and the late Willis Reese, brought him up “to participate even if there was no financial reward.” Willis was a professor of law at Columbia University and among the first to do volunteer arbitration work in New York for less fortunate community groups. Frances spearheaded the Scenic Hudson Preservation Council, which, together with other groups, won an environmental class action suit against Con Edison to stop polluting the Hudson River. In 1995, Frances joined co-honorees Leah Rabin and Queen Noor in receiving the Eleanor Roosevelt Award for volunteer efforts.
“The perks of volunteer work are that people appreciate what you’re doing and there is a satisfaction in watching an activity flourish that you have a passion for,” John Reese said. “It can be exhausting and become politicized but you don’t get personal feedback as often in business.”
A general partner at Lazard Freres & Company in New York for the past 13 years, John has also served as board trustee and officer for more than 10 organizations, ranging form the arts, to hospitals, schools and the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (a world-renowned genetic research institution headed by James Watson, half of the Crick & Watson team who discovered the code of DNA). The list included several sports associations, among them the USTA/Eastern Section. In the mid-1970s, he was Eastern’s vice president and a member or the committee that nominated Barbara Williams to become the first woman president of a USTA section.
Afterward, John took a five-year sabbatical from tennis volunteer work until one day in the early 1980s when he was playing tennis with his friend, Jane Brown. At the time, Jane was the executive director of the International Hall of Fame. She introduced John to Joe Cullman, the chairman, who invited him to sit on the board. John has since served in every capacity at Newport and was named board chairman in 1995.
A lifelong resident of Long Island, John was ranked first in Eastern tennis’ Boys’ 15 and under division – and several times among the section’s top-five players – during the 1950s and ‘60s. In 1957 he won the sectional junior Chamber of Commerce qualifier and represented New York at the organization’s national tournament in Corpus Christi, Texas. “The ETA gave me a special opportunity when I was growing up to have fun,” John said.
“We had out heroes. Gene Scott and Herb Fitz Gibbon were a little older, and they were players who really made is. Most of us weren’t at that level, but it didn’t diminish the joy of dreams and the excitement of legends. The greatest fun was watching Australia play the United States at Forest Hills in the (1956) Davis Cup. Ken Rosewall versus Vic Seixas and Tony Trabert against Lew Hoad. Bill Talbert and Harry Hopman were the captains. They are all Hall of Fames and reminders of the rich history of our sport.”
John took his tennis dreams to the University of Pennsylvania in the early ‘60s and captained the tennis and squash teams. He won the Eastern Collegiate singles and doubles tennis championships, and was ranked first in the country in squash in singles and doubles. In 1967 he earned his MBA from Penn and in 1997 was elected to his alma maters Tennis Hall of Fame.
Victoria and Augusta Reese agree that sports are so dear to their father’s heart, perhaps not so coincidentally, both girls married great athletes. John always offered them advice by using an analogy to sports as the premise. “He’d say, ‘See your teacher as your coach and your classmates as teammates. That way you’ll get a better focus in leaning your subject,’” Augusta recalled. She said that when she and Victoria were getting married, he was so excited at the idea of having boys in the family; he was out buying Christmas presents at sporting goods stores for his sons-in-law before they walked down the aisle.
Victoria added that her father was always able to beat much younger tennis players, which turned out to be a great screening process for her potential suitors. “Dad would play them, and set me up with blind dates he considered worthy candidates.”
Willis Reese would surely give a nod of approval to his son’s work at the International Tennis Hall of Fame, especially the museum restoration project and the “City of the Year” outreach program, which provides tennis instruction and competition for inner-city youths. “My father wanted me to be a great tennis player,” John said. “And while I wasn’t, he would have enjoyed seeing me at Newport sitting between Don Budge and Jack Kramer talking tennis.”
Photo Credit: Edward Goldman
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