2015 Annual Dinner Honors Tennis Greats
By James Zug
The Racquet & Tennis Club hosted the eighteenth annual United States Court Tennis Association dinner and auction during the traditional mid-December Whitney Cup.
More than a hundred and fifty people attended the dinner, which was chaired by Brian Owens and Dan Laukitis. A splendid cocktail hour started the evening, with guests viewing the extensive silent auction items. Besides the usual offerings of one-on-one lessons with some of the world’s leading professionals, some of the unique artifacts were photographs by Anglo-American Freddy Adam and cufflinks and tie bars made especially for the USCTA by squash pro and jewelry designer Dana Betts.
Jeremy Wintersteen, the president of the USCTA, started the dinner by thanking everyone for coming to the dinner and declaring that the state of the Association was strong. He then asked for a moment of silent reflection in honor of those USCTA members who had died in the past year: Alan Corey, Michael Flinn, Woody Millen and Elizabeth Van Alen.
Peter Pell, the chair of the Whitney Cup, welcomed everyone to New York for the eighty-second playing of the Payne Whitney Memorial Intercity Tennis Doubles Cup. As is now tradition, he read out the names of the first-time Whitney Cup players: John Patton and Mark Philpott from Washington; John Beam and Josh Scherer from Tuxedo; David Schenkein from Boston; Lincoln Frank from New York; and Ben Stein from Greentree.
The awards portion of the dinner began with a new prize: the Foundation Award. Created by the U.S. Court Tennis Preservation Foundation and its chair Bill McLaughlin, the award was designed to recognize extraordinary achievement in fostering the aims of the USCTPF including new court development, player development, organizational guidance, leadership and fundraising. Before the creation of this award, the Foundation, although two decades old, has never had a way to recognize significant contributions of those who devote themselves to expanding the sport and preserving its best qualities.
Simon Aldrich then introduced the inaugural winner of the Foundation Award, Haven Pell. Aldrich spoke about Pell’s spectacular work in leading the effort to create Prince’s Court in Washington in 1997 and his years as chair of the Foundation, particularly in helping obtain Real Tennis Online and developing the Foundation. Pell warmly thanked the Foundation and the Association.
James Zug, the chair of the USCTA’s Awards Committee, then announced the winners of the Association’s annual awards. Dacre Stoker was given the Edward J. Hughes/ John E. Slater Award, the Association’s highest award. Stoker has been on the Board of the USCTA since 1999, was formerly a member of the nominating, junior development and handicap & ranking committees and was chair of the membership committee from 2008 to 2012. Currently he is on the scheduling, professional and rules & equipment committees. Since 2012 he has served as the professional in Aiken and in the past decade he has been the co-owner of the Aiken Real Tennis Balls firm that has made eighty thousand balls.
The H. Dickson S. Boenning Award for sportsmanship was given to Arthur Whitcomb. An avid player (he recorded seventy-five matches in the past year on RTO), Whitcomb is the captain of the New York side in the Percy Cup and a consummate gentleman on and off the court.
The committee created a new award, the Junior of the Year, to acknowledge under-twenty-six year-olds who exhibit true sportsmanship, dedication and excellence. The first winner was Noah Motz. A sixteen year-old in Washington, Motz recorded ninety-seven singles matches and sixteen doubles matches in the past twelve months. In August 2014 he was a 55.2 handicap; today he is a 36.2. Motz recently won the U19 doubles national title.
The Robert M. Goodyear Award for hospitality was given to Marc Lewinstein. A keen supporter of the game, Lewinstein has often hosted players and social events, particularly during the summer in Newport.
The Most Improved Player Award went to Peter Cipriano. Playing in New York, Cipriano has taken to tennis in a big way. He was a 33 handicap in December 2013 and two years later is a 13.
The Most Improved Junior Player Award went to Erik Barker. Playing in Washington, Barker was a 44.8 in July 2014; a 40.8 in December 2014 and a 30.2 this December. Last summer Barker won the U16 draw at the British Junior Nationals, the first American to win a title there since Bradley Allen in 2000.
The Professional of the Year Award was given to Barney Tanfield. The head professional at the Racquet & Tennis Club, Tanfield served as the pro representative on the Board of the USCTA with unique distinction. In the past year and a half he has also helped launch the Bathurst Academy, the elite adult player development project.
Since last year’s annual dinner, two winners of the George Plimpton Prize for artistic achievement, Jamie Bruce and Graham Hyland, had been honored and the crowd gave a warm round of applause in appreciation of their contributions.
The final award was the induction of Tom Pettitt into the International Court Tennis Hall of Fame. Pettitt was one of the greatest players and coaches of all-time. A world champion from 1885 to 1891 and an inventor of the railroad serve, Pettitt served as the head pro at the Buckingham Street court from 1877 to 1888, the Boston Athletic Association from 1888 to 1904, the Tennis & Racquet Club from 1904 to 1927 and the Newport Casino from 1880 to 1946. He was also inducted into the International [Lawn] Tennis Hall of Fame in 1982.
Brook Hazelton then served as auctioneer for the Association’s annual auction. Nineteen lots were auctioned off. Notable items amongst the golf outings, game shooting and tennis weekends were a hand-stitched ball display made by Adrian Camacho and an artist’s proof photograph of the East Court’s tambour by Charlie Johnstone taken from his upcoming book of photographs on court tennis. Because of Hazelton’s professional abilities and the exceptional quality of the lots, the silent auction grossed nearly $11,000 and the live auction nearly $54,000.