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Buffalo Racquet Sports: Upholding Traditions

Author: Phil More

The picture of the 4 ladies sitting on a porch with their tennis racquets was taken the year after I was born. All these ladies are mothers of guys and girls I grew up while attending the Nichols School.

This photo might have been taken at the original Park Country Club’s clubhouse which became the school building of Nottingham Academy, the private girls’ school that later merged with the Nichols School.

I have two silver tennis trophies won by my great grandmother Emily Gray Hamlin at The Park Country Club in 1908. The Park Club’s original golf course was what is now the Delaware Park course. The tennis courts were most likely clay courts located near the clubhouse.

As a young boy I competed in the annual Courier Express Tennis Tournaments. After the Courier Express folded, the annual summer tournament was sponsored by the Buffalo News and was called The Buffalo Evening News MUNY Tennis Championships, won by notable tennis greats Jimmy Arias, Bob “The Rev” Hetherington, David Loder, and probably Bobby Banck – the second best player that ever came out of WNY, who, along with Jimmy Arias and the late Seth Bowen, competed as touring pros, and was on the men’s professional ATP tour.

Arias reached a career high of No. 5 in the world in 1985 and struggled to regain a top 30 ranking after battling mono. Currently he is a tennis commentator for the Tennis Channel, and the tennis director for the former Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Bradenton, Fl.

Bobby Banck is back coaching college tennis at his alma mater and was a personal coach for many touring pros including former French Open Champion, Mary Pierce. Undoubtedly, the most memorable MUNY finals was between a 12 year old Jimmy Arias and the 6’7″ Charlie “The Gar” Garfinkle, the prolific racquet sports writer for the Buffalo News. Charlie has written tennis articles about every great tennis, squash, and racquetball player from Buffalo. He was a national racquetball champ many times over, and won numerous local tennis, squash, and racquetball tournaments. Along with Jimmy Arias, “The Gar” is an inductee in The Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame. Jimmy defeated “The Gar” who was more than three times his age in the finals of that MUNYs… when he was only 12 years old and barely came up to Charlie’s waist!

Other past multiple MUNY champs include Bob Hetherington, a former National Grass Court, National Public Parks, and national squash champion. No one except Ted Walsh won more singles tennis tournaments at The Buffalo Tennis & Squash Club. I managed to beat Ted  in a third set tiebreaker to win my only open men’s singles finals at the club, and lost to him the next year. Together we won several Member Guest Tournaments.

I don’t believe “The Rev” ever lost a men’s open singles tennis or squash championship at the Buffalo Tennis & Squash Club, one of the oldest indoor tennis and squash clubs in the country. I played Bob twice in tournaments. Both times, I broke his serve in the first game and then he went through me like a buzzsaw and never lost another game. Bob won numerous MUNY and National titles in both tennis and squash and was an incredibly tenacious competitor, even into his 60’s. I watched a great finals at The Derby Club on clay where Bobby Banck came back into town and defeated Bob who was probably twice Bobby’s age. Bob was very unique. He used a western forehand grip to serve. He would never compete in squash until his tennis season was over. He would change from his ministry garb into his tennis whites every Sunday when he was competing in a tennis or squash tournament.

Other Buffalo MUNY Champs were Coach Joe DiCarlo’s two daughter’s Kathy and Debbie, and David Loder who had a win over Arias, and a lot of other former Buffalo greats too numerous to mention.

The racquet sport history in Buffalo is rich. It was Seymour H. Knox II  who helped finance the building of The Buffalo Tennis & Squash Club in the 1920’s where many national amateur and professional tennis and squash tournaments were held, and still are held. I have many fond memories of growing up playing at that club.

When I lived in East Aurora I had many memorable tennis and squash matches with the late Northrup “Norty” Knox who won the most International Court Tennis Championships in the history of the game, which dates back to its inception in the 15th century. Court tennis was the original game of tennis, started in France, played mostly amongst royalty. There are only a few courts in the world, and the game remains a somewhat elitist sport. Norty, who was 30 years my senior, could hold his own against me in both tennis and squash when I was at the peak of my game in my mid 30’s. He would have destroyed me if we were of equal ages. He was the best amateur polo player in the country and would have won numerous squash titles had he competed in squash as both his father and brother S.H. Knox II & III did.

The Knox family has done so much for Buffalo. Now it’s time for some new philanthropists to pick up the ball for tennis and build a worthy municipal tennis facility. The McMillan Courts in Delaware Park have outlived their usefulness. They are too close to the expressway. My company, Courts & More, resurfaced them twice, but they are beyond repair and need to be removed and moved to a more suitable location.

For all of you racquet fans out there, I encourage you to join my interest in building a new modern municipal tennis facility in Buffalo’s Delaware Park, like so many other U.S. cities have done.

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