Walt Peckinpaugh on the history of the game in Cleveland, OH

Hall of Fame member Walt Peckinpaugh, Jr. filed the story with PTM:

Platform tennis made its debut in Cleveland shortly after World War II when the Chagrin Valley Hunt Club built the first courts. Even the arrival of Witherbee Black, the 1940 National Champion from Rye, New York, could not stir the interest in “paddle.” The facility faltered from neglect until 1968 when two new courts were built and the “modern era’ of platform tennis began. Members of the Hunt Club then arranged a paddle exhibition and clinic featuring four top ranked players from the East: Roger Lankenau, Don Miller, Oliver Kimberly, and Dick Squires. Members of all east side clubs attended the, exhibition and from cooperative relationships, paddle began to gain momentum in Cleveland.

A most important contribution to the growth of Cleveland paddle was the decision by John Bernet, Carrington Clark, David Dickenson, and Will McFarlane to create a major platform tennis event in Cleveland. Along with Dick Taylor, Bob Bartholomew, and Jack Turben, these men served as the directors of Cleveland Tournaments, Inc., the non-profit organization created to support major paddle events in Northeast Ohio. Oliver “Kim” Kimberly and Jesse Sammis, each National Champions with other partners, defeated Cleveland’s first Nationally-ranked (6th) team of David Dickenson and Carrington Clark in 1970 at the Cleveland Invitational. The Men’s event continued to be held annually and 1972 saw the birth of the Women’s Invitational with Peggy Stanton and Charlotte Lee establishing themselves as perennial National Champions.

The spring of 1973 brought the Men’s National Championship to Cleveland and away from the metropolitan New York area for the first time in 40 years of paddle. John Mangan and Bob Kingsbury were the champions and Cleveland Tournaments, Inc., had accomplished its goal – the very best platform tennis was being played in Cleveland.

Wooden courts were replaced by aluminum and the Cleveland Invitational evolved into the prestigious ‘Masters’ tournament. National Champions Jennings/Steele, Fitzgibbon/Irvine, and Baird/Baird dominated the early Masters Championships, and in the eighties, Steve Baird and Rich Maier won the Masters, continuing the tradition of bringing the best players in the world to Cleveland. The Women’s Masters was also making a name for itself through the wins of National Championship teams like Hilary Hilton/Louise Gengler and Wendy Chase/Linda Wolf.

In 1975, a Senior Masters, including teams from other cities, was inaugurated and conquered by Jim Kline and Bill Gunton. The next year saw the arrival of the first professional event, which was sponsored by Tribuno Beverage. Passport Scotch sponsored another professional tournament in 1976, but professional paddle quickly ceased its association with the Masters. The Masters continues to attract the very best paddle teams to Cleveland for its annual National Ranking event.

Paddle tennis in Cleveland was certainly growing, but still lacked a city championship until Bill Nook and Walter Dimling founded the Cleveland Cup in 1977. The Men’s Championship was unique in the respect that five different teams won in the first five years of play. In the eighties, the Cleveland Cup was dominated by the team of Dick Haverland and Dud Humphrey, the number one-ranked team in the Midwest region and 8th nationally in 1983. The joint effort of the Cleveland Skating Club and Higbee’s Department Stores produced the Higbee Cup Women’s Championship that same year, with the support of Bonne Bell, Inc.

In 1984, Cleveland Tournaments, Inc., under the direction of Dick Haverland, brought the APTA Open Nationals back to Cleveland for its second appearance here. Dick and his committee changed the look of the National Championships forever with the hosting of a week-long party involving several social events for both men and women and a serious party on Saturday night. Just three years later, in 1987, Cleveland again hosted the Nationals under the direction of Walt & Marilyn Peckinpaugh as part of the Cleveland Skating Club’s 50th Anniversary. Walt brought the Nationals to Cleveland again in 1993 after an eastern committee decided they weren’t up for the task. He also brought three senior men’s National events here in 1990, 1996, and 2000.

In 1988, Walt reorganized and renamed Cleveland Tournaments, Inc. into what is now The Greater Cleveland Platform Tennis Association and served as its President for 12 years. The purpose of this organizational move was to bring together the tournament committees and interclub organizers into one functioning entity. Today, Brian McCreary and his wife, Beth, keep this group together.

The history of Cleveland Paddle could not be complete without acknowledging the contributions of the nationally ranked teams of John Brownlow and Scott Rogers, Anne Kline and Ruth Sadler, and Dick Haverland and Dud Humphrey. Chet Kermode heads the list of men including David Dickenson, Dick Haverland, and John Brownlow, who have won National titles in the 45, 50, 55, 60, and 65 age divisions, winning seven titles and being inducted into the Platform Tennis Hall of Fame in 1998

All of the wooden courts are now gone, but Cleveland still has thirty-eight heated aluminum courts in the eastern suburbs. The new millennium brings a new era to Cleveland paddle. We are anxious to see what new stars and organizational leaders will emerge.

Copyright IP 1998-2003 Peckinpaugh & Associates, Inc.

Source: Platform Tennis Magazine, Vol. 5, Issue 2, November, 2003