The Illinois High School Association is proud to celebrate 100 years of the IHSA Boys Tennis State Final Tournament in 2015 with a series of stories chronicling the history, memorable players, and storied programs that have made the last 100 years so special:
by Robert Pruter
Tennis was pioneered in the schools of Cook County as far back as the 1880s. The universities and colleges in the state sponsored many early high school tennis tournaments, and in 1912 the University of Illinois inaugurated a tournament for a state championship. Only singles and doubles winners were conferred championships; no team awards were made. Had team awards been made, Hyde Park High School, The Harvard School, and University High—all from Chicago's Hyde Park community—would have won most of the early team titles.
A girls’ tennis tournament was never considered, as the prevailing view at the time was that girls should only compete in intramurals. Tennis competition for girls existed in the Chicago schools, but the Illinois High School Athletic Association (which later dropped “Athletic” from its name) at that time barred interschool athletic competition for girls. When the IHSAA became the joint sponsor with University of Illinois of the tennis tournament in 1926, Chicago schools joined the IHSAA and dropped girls’ interschool tennis.
During its first years the state tournament was virtually ignored by the newspapers, despite the presence of some high caliber tennis players. The first notable player was Jerry Weber of Harvard, who won the first three singles titles, as well as a doubles title with his brother, James, in 1913. He was one of six boys selected in the country to play in the 1912, 1913, and 1914 prestigious National Interscholastic, held every year in Newport, Rhode Island, in August. In 1914 he took second in the National. Another three-time state singles winner (1922, 1923, 1924) was George Lott of Chicago University High, one of the most famous alumni of these years, who won a score of national doubles titles as well as the 1932 national clay court singles title. He was elected to the Tennis Hall of Fame in 1964. Scott Rexinger of Hyde Park, the 1926 state singles winner, went on to take the Big Ten singles title twice.
Douglas Turner of Hyde Park, the 1927 singles winner, is probably the first African-American in the country to win a state title in tennis. At the University of Illinois he took second in the Big Ten in 1929. In 1930, he won the national championship of the American Tennis Association, an organization sponsoring African-American competition because of the color line at United States National Lawn Tennis Association-sponsored events.
Throughout Chicago, high school players honed their tennis skills at the local park district and private club courts, notably Hamilton Park in Englewood and Franklin Park on the North Side, and until mid-1940s these city players largely dominated state tournament competition. Joe Newton, the famous cross country coach from York High School, who played tennis at Parker (now Robeson) High School, said, “This was before coaches. We met at park district courts everyday and trained ourselves. The competition was so intense we all got real good.” One of the most outstanding was Parker's John Shostrom, who won three consecutive singles titles in 1932, 1933, and 1934. His brother Charlie teamed up with Art Jorgenson to win doubles in 1933 (in 1935 Art Jorgenson and Charlie Shostrom won first and second in singles respectively). The twin brothers Bill and Chet Murphy of Tilden Tech won the state doubles titles in 1934 and 1935. In college, the Murphy twins won two Big Ten doubles titles, and Chet won a Big Ten singles title. Chicago high school products help the University of Chicago win five Big Ten tennis titles in the 1930s.
In 1936, the tournament awarded team championships for the first time, New Trier and Rock Island sharing the inaugural state title. The most notable star of the first two state tournaments was Seymour Greenberg of Lane Tech, who won singles titles in 1936 and 1937. Greenberg went on to win a Big Ten title for Northwestern and two national clay court titles. Parker reemerged as a tennis power in the late 1930s, winning team titles in 1938 and 1939, behind singles champion John Jorgenson, Art's younger brother.
In the early 1940s, another city school, Senn, emerged as a tennis power, winning team titles in 1940, 1942, and 1943. The 1940 team was led by singles winner Jim Evert. The Senn star later moved to Florida, got married, and had a little girl named Chris who grew up to become a major tennis star. Jim’s brother Jerry Evert led the Senn teams that won the 1942 and 1943 titles, the last state team championships won by a Chicago school. Tennis supremacy subsequently shifted to schools in the city’s western and northern suburbs. Evanston (Twp.) won the 1944 tournament and Oak Park (O.P.-River Forest) won the 1945 tournament.