Inductees, Audience Made Hall of Fame Evening Memorable
By John Packett, RTA Contributing Writer
What turned out to be quite possibly one of the most memorable evenings in the history of Richmond tennis took place on Oct. 19 at the Westin Hotel’s Chesapeake Ballroom.
The occasion was the induction ceremony and banquet for the Class of 2013 into the Richmond Tennis Hall of Fame. Some 175 people crowded into the room to enjoy the food and festivities.
Among the inductees were some of the finest men — and one woman — who have ever picked up a racquet or coached in this area. It was a remarkable collection of people and those in attendance appreciated what they had accomplished with standing ovations.
All in all, a virtual who’s who of tennis in Richmond — both those being inducted and in the audience.
“It was fun seeing a lot of people I hadn’t seen in a long time,” said Rob Leitch, one of 24 attendees being honored from Thomas Jefferson High School for winning a Virginia High School League record 15 state team championships.
“It was really just a great, great time. There were so many people there you wanted to talk to. It was almost frustrating because you couldn’t get to everybody. It was just terrific to see all those people turn out for it. It was a great night.”
TJ won 11 consecutive titles from 1948-58 under legendary coach Sam Woods. The school also captured
championships in 1965, 1968 and the last two in 1970-71, with the final four coming under three different coaches.
Dr. Stanley Steinberg, a retired veterinarian, was a member of the squads from 1950-53, playing a major role in the titles his final two years. Those teams also included such luminaries as Bobby Bortner, Bobby Payne, Eddie Phillips, Gene Wash, Lanny Ross and Gene Gee.
“Ranny Church and I were the only ones who showed up [from his last two years],” said Steinberg. “I played singles in ’52 and ’53 and Ranny played doubles in ’52 and ’53. I was on the team [the other years] but not on the traveling team.
“I thought it was a very nice affair. I thought it would have pulled more people from that Thomas Jefferson tennis group but in helping Shima [Grover] go back and try to track down people, unfortunately so many have passed away.
“Bobby Payne wasn’t there because he had a stroke. I got to meet Gene Wash’s daughter and she took a picture of us.”
The Thomas Jefferson award was accepted by the current TJ coach, Will Dupree.
The other inductees included Bob Bayliss, Tom Chewning, O.H. Parrish, Tom Vozenilek, Fred Koechlein and Penelope Anderson McBride. Koechlein and McBride were both inducted posthumously, having died in 1993.
Koechlein’s two daughters and his son gave an emotional acceptance speech for their father, while the Country Club of Virginia’s Tom Wallace made some nice comments about McBride, whose legacy lives on in the form of the annual Anderson Cup competition.
McBride was the most decorated and highly ranked female player to ever come out of Richmond.
Bayliss, who coached TJ to one of its state championships (1968), gave the longest speech but included some heart-warming stories about several of his former players at the Naval Academy and Notre Dame, from where he just retired last spring.
Chewning, whose contributions to the game as a player and volunteer continue unabated to the present through his generous support of time and money to many worthy causes throughout the area and state, remains humble and talked a lot about giving back.
So too did Parrish, a four-time city singles champion and three-time state champ, who gave much of the credit for his rise to fame to Woods, Koechlein and his North Carolina coach Don Skakle – along with many hours of practicing on the Byrd Park courts.
While not a native of Richmond, it feels like Vozenilek belongs here, since he married the former Betty Baugh Harrison and has lived and worked in Richmond since 1986. His contributions came as a volunteer and teacher for over a decade.
The induction ceremony was preceded by a wonderful talk from Virginia coach Brian Boland, who stressed the importance of hard work and team camaraderie while mentioning the early help he received from several Richmonders when he arrived at U.Va.
“The 2013 Hall of Fame induction was an incredible celebration of the past, present and future of Richmond tennis,” said Ginny Wortham, president of the Richmond Tennis Association, which was responsible for arranging the gala event.
“I was inspired by the anecdotes and gratitude shared by the inductees. I was proud to be a member of the Richmond tennis community when I was reminded of the importance of giving back by Tom Chewning and Tom Vozenilek.
“It was exciting to witness over 20 members of past TJ teams re-unite for the first time in many years … and to meet and talk to so many players. Paddi Valentine Waters and her entire committee did a great job organizing a very special evening.”