State Stories

27

100 Years of IHSA Tennis: Great Days at Arlington HS—and a Second Four-Peat

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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 Chuck Morrison, Head Coach at Niles East and Deerfield
I grew up in the Quad Cities and played at UTHS (East Moline). I qualified for the finals as a junior in 1955 (doubles) and as a senior in 1956 (singles). In those days the state finals were held in Champaign with a 32 draw. The seed meeting was held on Thursday evening in a lecture room, upper floor of Huff Gym, east side overlooking the concrete courts below. The tournament was held on two days, with three rounds on Friday, the semis on Saturday morning, and the finals in the afternoon. I recall matches were held on the courts outside of Huff as well as concrete courts at the football stadium with wire nets. The draw was chaired for many years by Paul Yates of Blue Island. Paul used a large built-in chalkboard behind the small stage he stood on, with clipboard in hand, and the coaches sitting in built-in chairs that rose up about fifteen rows. There would be input from the coaches, but Paul was in charge, no doubt.

In 1967 the state singles title was won by Chris Nielsen of New Trier. By this time it was a 64 draw, which included that "brash youngster from Belleville," freshman Jimmy Connors—such a dominating backhand and the first time I ever saw a Wilson T2000 (in Connors' hands). Connors lost to Cale Carvel, Evanston senior, in a tight match in the quarters. Of the top seeds, Cale was probably Connors' worst possible opponent, as Carvel was just as brash as Connors, if not more so. I recall quite vividly Jimmy's mother and grandmother hanging out of one of the windows on the second or third floor of Huff Gym and yelling "Jimmy! Jimmy!" The next year, Connors moved to California to work with the two Panchos—Gonzales and Segura.

In 1973 the tournament was moved to Arlington and surrounding schools. Arlington High School provided a great setting for the finals as they shut down the street in front of the school's exhibition gym, which served as Tournament Central. The lobby area was elevated and had a goodly number of steps leading down to the closed street and tennis courts below. All in all it was a great viewing area for the action, the milling about of players, coaches, and fans. It was a happening. At the same time Tom Pitchford, with the help of Dave Fry, expanded the tournament to a draw of 128 with a back draw.

Tom Pitchford liked to tell the story of how he rescued my son, Mike, when he was a little shaver, by pulling him out of the window wells there at Arlington High School. In 1983 we were all surprised when Mike, as a freshman, defeated Hinsdale's Chris Williams in the finals, 6-2 in the third set. Scott Greenberg of Highland Park was the number one seed who Mike upset in the round of 16 on Friday morning at Prospect. Highland Park was in our conference and Scott had beaten Mike three times that season. Mike had nine losses heading into the state finals and was correctly seeded 12th. During the awards presentation David Fry made mention of Marty Riessen's run and of Mike being a freshman, so the pressure was on.

The next year, 1984, Mike beat Dan Bowers of Lyons in the finals. It was the final year at Arlington as the school was closing, and Tom Pitchford moved over to Hersey High School and took the tournament with him. Hersey had a different physical layout and for a number of years there were two courts that were next to the building on the west side and surrounded by a large grassy area. These two courts were the site of the semis and finals. It was an intimate viewing area with bleachers set up and fans allowed on the adjacent court for the finals. In 1985 Mike beat Nick Barone of Maine West in the finals and the two met again in 1986, with Mike winning 6-4, 6-0. It was fitting that David Fry was still representing the IHSA and making the awards. I recall his words were: "Twenty-six years ago Marty Riessen won his fourth state singles title and now Mike Morrison has done it again."

We all owe our thanks and gratitude to Tom Pitchford for what he accomplished for our tournament. Sadly, Tom passed away within a few years of the site change to Hersey.

One hundred years of high school tennis in Illinois. I'm proud to have been a part of it.