(1925 – 2004)
Honor Award Induction: 1979
Hall of Fame Induction: 1996
Eldredge L. “Wooley” Bermingham and his wife, Pam, had been enthusiastic players while living in Westchester County, NY, but moved to Sewickley, PA, in 1958 where they found just one primitive court on which to play. Wooley went to work to change this and finally, over considerable opposition, was able to convince the Edgeworth Club to build a court as a way to keep the club active in winter. That was the start of building considerable interest in the game in the region. Bermingham founded the Western Pennsylvania Platform Tennis Association, which became the first region of the APTA, and served as the regional vice president. He also served on the Board of the APTA from 1973-1975. (Edgeworth Club, Sewickley, PA).
In the 1950s, Henry Chalfant built the first paddle court in Sewickley, Pennsylvania. It was a primitive court with a cement floor from an old greenhouse surrounded by old chicken wire, and had a tired tennis court net. Local country club members used it as something to do during the fall and winter months. In 1958, Pam and Wooley Bermingham, moved to Sewickley, PA, and, since Pam had grown up in Scarsdale, they were platform tennis enthusiasts and began playing on the Chalfant court. This marked the beginning of platform tennis’ rise in the Pittsburgh area.
When the Bermighams joined the Edgeworth Club, Wooley took the board members over to play on the Chalfant court. Slowly, he won them over by convincing them that the game would keep their club active in the winter, and the sport would be something that would catch on. The next winter, the first regulation court was put up, but because of some lingering skepticism, the court had to be portable, as it was considered an eye sore.
The club manager, who was part of the opposition, was horrified at this “animal cage.” So, Bermingham had the bartender keep track of the revenue after the court started to be used and, as any paddle player would expect, it was up. After two years of paying a tidy sum to take down and put up the portable court—a cost that likely would have buried the sport forever without Wooley’s determination—the court was made permanent in 1962. A second court was added two years later, and then came a warming hut, designed and built by Bermingham. (As a side note, the club manager who likened the court to an animal cage he moved on to another town and was quickly on the phone to see about getting courts there.)
The first court started to draw attention from paddle players in the surrounding area. Phil Osborne brought a group of players from Fox Chapel over to play and this ultimately lead to the formation of the Fox Chapel Racquet Club, and the beginning of the game in Fox Chapel, now a hot bed of paddle.
The key to all this success in growing the game was the Sewickley Invitational Paddle Tournament (SIPT), a mixed scrambles tournament held on that first court at the Edgewood Club. To enter, one-half the team had to be from another town, and it didn’t matter if participants had ever seen the game. All were encouraged to enter and have some fun. Attendance at the Friday night cocktail party, which opened the next two days of competition, was considered mandatory. By the third year, one-half the team had to be from sixty or more miles away, and guest were housed for free with local players. The success of the event prompted the Allegheny Country Club in Sewickley to build two courts in 1968. The tournament is still popular today.
In the first SIPT, Wooley played with a Cleveland resident who, quite rightly, thought this was the greatest game he’d ever seen. That started the game in Cleveland, with Bermingham traveling there to help promote the game, show how it was played, and even initiate a guest membership for Sewickley and Cleveland players.
Bermingham also traveled and turned on the paddle lights in Detroit, Cincinnati and Toledo He worked with them, got them to play in his tournaments, and helped local clubs start their own. And, all the while, he convinced one Pittsburgh area club after another, and one bordering municipality after another, of the beauties of this sport. In one town, known for its golf, the pitch was “you don’t play golf in the winter.” There are 20 courts in that town now.
In 1967, seven years after the first court was built, Wooley founded the Western Pennsylvania Platform Tennis Association (WPPTA) with five member clubs, the first platform tennis regional organization and ultimately the first subsidiary region of the APTA. In 1968, he was made a regional vice president of the APTA, the first with a true regional organization, and he held this position for four years. When Bermingham stepped down, his region had 17 member clubs and municipalities. He was elected to the APTA board in 1973 and served as a director of the association until 1975.
After getting the WPPTA off the ground, Bermingham started men’s, women’s and mixed competitions, all of them open tournaments, with the West Penn Open being a particular highlight. A year after starting the open tournaments, he initiated the first junior tournament to encourage junior court time, and was active in the Saturday morning clinics for children and young adults started by David Schaff at the Edgewort Club. Two years later, he organized league play. Within five years, there were 600 people playing competitively on a weekly basis.
Bermingham knew he wasn’t going to be a national champion, but he knew he could lead people to paddle, and could teach them to play and love the game anyway. And, that’s really what paddle has always been about and what a large part of this APTA award is about.
Wooley was born March 21, 1925 in Rye, NY, and attended Rye Country Day School, Taft School, and Bowdoin College. He served his country in the 104th Timberwolf Infantry Division and was awarded the Bronze Star for bravery and the Purple Heart. His professional career was in advertising and sales in New York City, Pittsburgh, and Vermont. Woolly was an avid sailor and sportsman.
He died peacefully at home in South Londonderry, VT, on November 4, 2004.