America's tennis incubator is a quiet, sylvan plot of good Michigan earth which 51 weeks a year serves as the campus of Kalamazoo College. The 52nd week it is devoted to hatching the court greats of tomorrow.
It is the scene of the National Junior and Boys' Tennis Championships. For this one week the campus crawls with bright-eyed tykes in white pants, all toting tennis rackets and all imbued with one burning aim: to become a champion and some day represent the U.S. in Davis Cup competition.
With Don Budge, coach of the Junior Davis Cup squad in the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association's development program, I attended the recent championships in Kalamazoo, Mich.
Both of us returned home with the comfortable assurance that, cries of the alarmists to the contrary, we are not about to yield our international tennis supremacy to any nation.
August 21, 1955
"I think these boys are much better generally than when I was playing in the juniors," commented the red-haired Budge, one of our all-time great champions. Although mine was a slightly later era, I had to agree.
All of our top players down through the years have cut their competitive teeth in this tournament. Budge did. So did Vines, Kramer and Tony Trabert, who, incidentally, never got past the semifinals. The present crop of teen-agers can stand up to any.
More than by any individual player or group of players I was struck, I think, by the magnitude of the operation, the professional efficiency of it and the pleasant, homey atmosphere generated throughout the week. It's a grand show.
There were 236 players in the junior and boys' divisions. The little city of Kalamazoo threw its entire civic weight behind the project. Dr. Weimer K. Hicks, president of the college, was honorary referee. The tournament itself, however, was conducted by Dr. Allen B. Stowe, head of Kalamazoo's chemistry department, who served as referee and had everything functioning clockwork fashion. Dr. Stowe, an official of the USLTA, was responsible for establishing the event at the college some 13 years ago. Since then his untiring efforts have accomplished a Herculean task.
On the first day there were 105 matches. Play started at 8 o'clock in the morning, with scores of sleepy-eyed youngsters on the courts, and lasted until around 8:30 p.m. It was an amazing sight—and an impressive one—to see all the embryo Budges and Kramers in action.
It was curious to watch the parents. For most lads on the scene there was a parent or guardian, an uncle or aunt or home-town well-wisher. Budge and I several times caught ourselves watching the anxious parents during the matches. They bit their nails. They squirmed. They fidgeted. The boys didn't need salt tablets for spent energy; the parents did.
It was a cross section of America. Ogden Phipps, the Long Island race horse owner, was there with his son Ogden Jr. Then there was the father from the Pacific Coast who saved his nickels and dimes to give his boy, a public parks player, his big chance. Johnny Nogrady, a top professional, chaperoned a group of some 20 Long Island boys to the tournament.
Each player was given room and board in the dormitories for $5 a day. Coaches and families were given the same modest rates. The social life was confined to the campus. The competitors spent idle moments reading, playing table tennis and other games.
The tournament was conducted big-league style all the way. There was a referee for every match, a scoreboard at every court. The youngsters displayed impeccable court manners. The tree-fringed Stowe Stadium seats 1,500. It was filled several times.
RICH IN TALENT
Just to show you how rich we are in junior talent, Mike Green of Miami Beach, Fla., the top-seeded favorite in his division and a junior member of the Davis Cup squad we took to Australia last year, was beaten in the quarterfinals by Art Andrews of Iowa City, Iowa, an area better known for its corn than its courtmen. Andrews lost in the finals to Esteban Reyes, an intense, alert Mexican who has been playing on his country's Davis Cup team.
The boys' title was won by Ned Neely of Atlanta, Bitsy Grant's home town. He defeated the favorite, Earl Buchholz of St. Louis, in the finals. Other impressive players in the tournament were Ron Holmberg, the big blond boy from Brooklyn; Earl Baumgardner of Oakland, Calif.; Greg Grant of San Marino, Calif.; Maxwell Brown of Louisville, Ky. and Crawford Henry of Atlanta, Ga. They're all real comers.
Four or five years from now, perhaps less, a couple of these boys will be in the center court at Forest Hills defending the Davis Cup. Which one? Your guess is as good as mine.