Harrison made Thalhimer Cup his own

By John Packett, RTA Contributing Writer

Harrison made Thalhimer Cup his own

RICHMOND– The Thalhimer Invitational was regarded as one of the top tennis tournaments in the Mid-Atlantic region during the 20th century.

First known as the Cavalier Invitational, the tournament attracted nationally ranked players from across the eastern United States.

The winner had his name etched on a gleaming silver bowl, named for William B. Thalhimer, and got to keep it for a year.

The best players in Virginia and the Maryland-D.C. area descended on Byrd Park for a week of intense competition.

The tournament began during the 1940s under Sam Woods. Many of his Byrd Park proteges, including Gene Wash, Del Sylvia, Bobby Payne and Bobby Bortner, won the event.

Fred Bruner, a member of the Richmond Tennis Hall of Fame, said he remembers impressive players who traveled to Richmond to compete. 

“It was really amazing to have that level of tennis coming here to town to play,” said Bruner.

John W. “Bitsy” Harrison never lost a match in the Thalhimer Invitational.

Harrison, the former city and state champion, had competed in the national circuit. He was ranked as high as 18th in the country.

If one player could win the tournament three years in a row, they could keep the trophy. Harrison said the tournament director would try to prevent that from happening.

“They would bring in this ringer if you won it twice because they didn’t want it [the tropy] retired,” said Harrison. 

Harrison won consecutive crowns in 1964-65. The tournament summoned Norm Perry, a nationally ranked player from California, for the 1966 draw.

But somebody knocked off Perry before he got to Harrison in the draw, and the Richmonder collected his third straight title by beating O.H. Parrish in the final.

Harrison said he was delighted to win.

“I came in off the circuit to play in that tournament because I really wanted to win it,” said Harrison.

The victory allowed Harrison to take the trophy home. This time, he didn’t have to return it.

Harrison lives in Deltaville now. He keeps the trophy in his living room.

Parrish said he remembers his final against Harrison.

“He beat me pretty good,” said Parrish. “He served and volleyed me right into the ground.”

After Harrison retired the trophy, the tournament stopped. Nothing similar to the Thalhimer Invitational has been held in Richmond since.