Tennis and I have been tight since the 1970s when I grew up equidistant from both the Mankato Hilltop tennis courts and the home of my bitter tennis rivals, Jimmy Connors and John “McBrat” McEnroe. From age eight on, every summer morning began the same way: I woke up, wolfed down the Breakfast of Champions, and then gave myself a pep talk because that day I, Bjorn Borg, would surely endure another grueling five-setter against the brash and scrappy Americans, aka my best friends, the fraternal twins.
Once mentally focused, I grabbed my Tony Trabert wooden racquet with loose strings, slick leather grip and its cumbersome wooden press. Then it was off to Connor’s and Mac’s house. “Let’s go,” I’d growl, and away we stalked to any available court at Hilltop or perhaps nearby Bethany Lutheran College. If those were full, we utilized BLC’s huge brick wall by a parking lot. We took with us an odd assortment of weathered Wilson tennis balls that could be described as neither yellow nor green, and epic battles ensued. All tennis players have similar stories of their own, and we have heard them.
Each of the over 100 tennis alumni with whom our team has spoken about a new tennis complex at Saint John’s lit up with excitement at the prospect. Many Johnnie alumni still play high-level USTA well into their 40s and 50s, at least, and there is no question that the tennis illuminati are a passionate clan.
We have enjoyed speaking with SJU tennis alumni from every era and from every possible background. From nostalgic owners of old school wooden racquets to those toting $500+ Babolats in giant multi-racquet bags. From the cracked asphalt hardcourt players to private tennis club clay court prodigies. Two things bind them all: one, a deep and abiding love for the game; and two, a desire to pass their love of the game on to tennis players they’ve never met. For those two reasons, a few outstanding Johnnie alumni leaders have stepped forward to make this exciting project reality.
Mike Murphy ’61 stepped up to honor his coach, Fr. Alfred Deutsch, with a court that will carry Alfred’s name. Mike reached out to many of his teammates and they are fast approaching the $50,000 required for court naming rights. Dave Wendt ’63 honored his late wife, Karen, with a court because she loved the game for her entire life.
Phil “Postie” Postelwaite ’90 wanted to honor his recently-deceased coach, Dick Schroeder, and willingly volunteered to lead that effort. Jamie Volin ’70 is leading the effort to honor his departed teammate, Raymond “Ray” Rossini. John Grobe ’72 came forward with the idea to honor Michael Lilly ’78. Michael “Douceur” LaDouceur ’79 stepped up as well, and sponsored a court because he loves the game and SJU.
In short, this effort has been nothing short of inspirational…and fun. SJU tennis alumni tell the most humorous stories, and each one of them is an outstanding and captivating storyteller. If you would like to help us write the newest chapter of SJU tennis, please let us know. We need a few more storytellers to finish this story.