Richmonders Mourn Passing of Bard, Sylvia

By John Packett

RTA Contributing Writer

The lady was strict on her players but loyal to the core. The gentleman could wield a racquet with the best of them in Richmond.

Two local icons, one of them a native son and the other a native of France, died recently and the tennis world is mourning them.

Eva Bard, 78, who led the Virginia Commonwealth University women’s team into national prominence and helped hundreds of area players learn the game while teaching at Jefferson-Lakeside Country Club and Raintree Swim and Racquet Club, passed away on March 17 at Retreat Hospital.

Delmar “Dell” Sylvia, who won three city singles championships and a pair of state titles before going on to earn several high, age-group singles and doubles rankings by the United States Tennis Association, died late last year at the age of 82 in Brunswick, Ga.

In the beginning stages of his career, Sylvia had quite a temper and it likely cost him some matches.
But once the Richmonder was able to harness his emotions and focus on his opponent, he became one of the best players in the city’s history.

“The thing that sort of held him back a little when he was younger was his temper,” said Shelton Horsley, an old adversary of Sylvia’s. “He finally got that under control and he was a very, very good player. He was one of the best natural tennis players I’ve ever seen. And he was a really fierce competitor.
“For that time, he would be considered a very aggressive offensive player. He came to the net a lot, but he had good ground strokes and a good serve.”

Sylvia won city singles titles in 1951-52 and 1954, defeating Horsley in the ’51 and ’52 finals after Horsley beat him in the 1950 final. Sylvia defeated Bobby Bortner in the ’54 title match. Sylvia’s younger brother, Bruce, went on to claim four city crowns.

Sylvia captured state championships in 1951 and ’54, finishing runner-up to Horsley on three other occasions.

“We always had very close battles,” recalled Horsley, now 85. “No question about it. The first couple of times I won pretty easily, but that’s when the three years in age made a huge difference, as far as experience goes. That’s also when his temper was very detrimental to him.”

Sylvia was the teaching pro at Westwood Racquet Club for a number of years and served as the pro at the Knoxville (Tenn.) Racquet Club for a while.

The winner of several national age-group championships, Sylvia was ranked No. 1 in the men’s 35 singles division in 1970 and was No. 6 the following year. He was ranked among the top four in the men’s 45 category for four years and later was highly rated in the men’s 50 and 55 divisions.

Bard, who was born in Strasbourg, France, took over as the head coach of the VCU’s women’s team when it was re-started in 1987. Her teams steadily improved over the first four years before the Rams began to make an impact on the regional and national scene.

“She started the team from scratch,” said VCU coach Paul Kostin, who took over the women’s program when Bard retired in 2001. “She had good teams most of the years. She was a tough cookie. She was a good coach. She really cared about the athletes.

“She was really focused on her players and helped them any way she could. She was always there for them.”
In 14 years at the helm, Bard’s teams went 152-99. She was named Metro Conference coach of the year in 1993 and Colonial Athletic Association coach of the year in 1998. Her ‘98 team (20-4) was No. 22 in the final Intercollegiate Tennis Association rankings.

Kostin took most of the players that Bard had recruited and reached the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament in 2002 the year after she retired.

“She was very loyal to her players,” said Sofia Hiort-Wright, who played for Bard and is now associate athletic director for academic support at VCU. “Even though she was tough on you, you always knew that she cared about you.

“She was extremely competitive. She was the most honest person I think I’ve ever met. She was never afraid to tell her opinion. She kept in contact with everybody after she retired. She was so passionate about the sport because it had been a part of her life for so long.”

There will be a memorial service for Bard at 11 a.m. on May 7 at the Congregation Or Ami at 9400 West Huguenot Road in Richmond.