“My love for the sport hasn’t diminished one bit.”
“I will not apologize for tennis!”
Charlotte York Goldenblatt
And Just Like That
My tennis career started off with a lie. Uh, okay, that’s also a lie. I never had a tennis career, unless you count playing tournaments in Allegany County.
My introduction to the sport came before Chrissie Evert, John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors burst onto the scene. My Dad found out that the Cumberland Parks and Recreation Department was giving tennis lessons at the city tennis courts. However, a kid to be 13 to take lessons. That year I was only 12, but I showed up anyway at the North End courts. I don’t remember if I had to fill out a form, but if I did, I probably said I was 13. The rest, as they say, is history. I took to the sport like a duck takes to . . . . . well, you know.
I remember several of the instructors like Jay and Alan Kaplan who lived in the North End and were local competitors, and my eventual tutor, Rocky Klosterman. I was kind of a tomboy back then and learned rather quickly. Back in the dark ages, we played with wooden rackets that we kept in a device called a press. The press was designed to prevent the wood from warping. Tennis shoes? If you mean white Keds, yes, of course. Dad said a racket was all I needed to take lessons because the Rec Department would supply the tennis balls. Once I started playing in tournaments, there was usually an entry fee, plus you had to bring a can of balls.
The beginner lessons started with something very basic – how to hold the racket. After that, we were taught how to hit a forehand and a backhand. Once we got the hand of those two strokes, we learned how to stand in the “ready” position, how close to the ball we should be to hit it, and how to keep the ball from flying over the fence. Now it was time for the instructor to stand on one side of the net and throw tennis balls to us, and we were to try to hit them back over the net.
I don’t remember how many weeks of instruction we got, or even how many days a week I walked up to the courts. Once I decided that I loved it, all I wanted to do was practice the strokes, whether with a partner or just hitting the ball against a backboard. At home, I would hit the ball against the side of our gray brick house on Fairview Avenue, occasionally hitting and breaking a window. Dad never yelled at me when I did it. He would sigh and go get another piece of glass custom cut to fit, which he would install himself.
I must have been a treat to teach because I’m a leftie. It never occurred to me to use my non-dominant hand like Rafael Nadal, a natural righty who plays left-handed, or Maria Sharapova, a natural leftie who plays right-handed. Knowing what I know now, I must have had a distinct advantage once I started entering competitions. A tennis ball coming off the strings of a left hander has a different spin, which seems to confuse an opponent. My weapons were my topspin forehand and my wicked first serve. I don’t even want to talk about my poor backhand. I was taught to hit a one-handed backhand, but it was my weakest shot, and it was before the two-handed backhand became popular. Fortunately for me, my opponents kept hitting to my forehand, forgetting I wasn’t right-handed.
As a 16 year old, I won the Allegany County Women’s Singles Title, defeating Shirley Workman, 7-5, 2-6, 6-2. Even now, I find my victory pretty amazing. Shirley was a veteran player and I was only four years past tennis lessons. They say pride goeth before the fall, but I am very proud of that accomplishment. And the only reason I can write about it is because my Mom cut the article out of the newspaper.
Eventually, my sister Carol took up the sport and we became a doubles duo. We even made the legendary Times-News sportswriter Suter Kegg’s column, Tapping the Kegg. Carol and I were playing Shirley Workman and Angela Rotruck when a mouse inadvertently scurried onto the court, interrupting our game. In his column, Suter said that the mouse didn’t chase the girls, the girls chased the mouse!
In my last year of high school, my Dad started a tennis team. It was a big deal! Our small, all-girls Catholic high school never had a sports team that competed against other schools in the area. But my Dad managed to assemble a team and we were added to the schedule of Allegany, Fort Hill and Beall high schools. There is a photo of our whole team, including my Dad, Coach Paul Mullan, in the Times News on June 3, 1966, because we won the city championship, sweeping Allegany and Fort Hill in our first year. The following year Bishop Walsh opened and many original team members went on to play for their new school, with my sister Carol anchoring the team.
I still have a boxful of my trophies that I haven’t been able to part with. My love for the sport hasn’t diminished one bit. I’m so sad that tennis is not as popular in this area as it was in my playing days. Schools still compete – I have a grandson who plays and another coming up – but many of the area courts are not in the best shape. The amazing Garlitz clay courts are long gone, the Cumberland Country Club courts were removed years ago, and many of the public courts have fallen by the wayside. There are two at Lions field, some more at Constitution Park, quite a few at Allegany College, as well as FSU. Wouldn’t it be great to see kids running around on a tennis court rather than scrolling through their phones or playing video games?