PLATFORM TENNIS HOF INDUCTION SPEECH FOR MIKE STULAC By Tim McAvoy:
Most competitive. Best sportsmen.
Those two statements are often at odds with one another—except when discussing our Hall of Fame inductee tonight.
Born in 1970 and raised in a suburb of Toronto, Canada, his father and mother, Joe and Joan, were inspirations to him, both on and off the court. Joe was an exceptional all-around athlete and represented Canada in basketball at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo. And in fact, Joan is here tonight.
I had the pleasure of meeting this whirling 13-year-old dervish in the Spring of 1984 at the Kingsway Platform Tennis Club, where he and his friends were playing paddle. This four-court facility (now five) is known as ‘the home of platform tennis in Canada’ and clearly the Mecca of paddle in the Toronto metropolitan area. His Dad, Joe, was one of the founding members of Kingsway and was elected its first President in the mid-1970s.
Mike enjoyed platform tennis but loved ice hockey, as do seemingly all Canadians. But Mike also enjoyed wrestling. The only issue with Mike wrestling at age 14 was that, according to his mother Joan, she had to sign a waiver to allow him to wrestle, given he was less than 5 feet tall and weighed 85 pounds.
Mike continued with ice hockey through high school but when he was 18 years old, Mike started to compete and excel in platform tennis. With good friend Chris Jackson in 1989, Mike won the APTA Boy’s 18 & Under National Junior Championships.
Over the next 30 years, our recipient continued to consistently achieve excellence in tournament play. He won the Men’s National Championships in 2005 and approached the tournament with an unconventional strategic approach. I hate to give away winning strategies, but I need to make an exception for our special honoree tonight.
Our recipient was living in New York City so he took a bus from the city to Pittsburgh, arrived late at the house (around midnight) where he was staying, and found himself locked out of the house. Rather than wake anyone up at such a late hour, he spent the night in a car in the driveway, managed to get a few hours of sleep, and then teamed up with Bill Anderson to win five matches that day on his way to his first National Men’s Championship. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this approach to everyone but there you go!
In addition to winning the 2005 Nationals, our inductee also:
- Won the 2011 Men’s National Championship with fellow Canadian, Mark Parsons.
- Won the Mixed National Championships in 2008 with his wife, Kerri Delmonico
- Won the National Husband/Wife Championships with Kerri 3 times: in 2008, 2011 and 2013.
- Won 4 straight National 45 and over Championships, 3 with Scott Estes Jr and one with Jeff Morneau.
His winning percentage in the finals of all his National Championships is an amazing 79% as he won 11 of 14. Clearly our Hall of Famer knows how to compete and win the big matches.
Mike’s signature shots are his two-handed backhand and point-ending drop shots, but his greatest asset is his determination, drive, and competitiveness. Our inductee never beats himself—you have to beat him to win.
He is also one of the few Hall of Famers that did not play competitive tennis growing up. He epitomizes the idea that great athletes can take up platform tennis and excel.
Our inductee has also been a quiet leader in the growth and visibility of platform tennis in Toronto and helped Fritz Odenbach grow the sport in Rochester as well. In the early years, our Hall of Famer would drive to Rochester with carloads of friends/paddle players from the Toronto area, all looking to compete and have a great time. Fritz said he was known as “the kid from Canada with the two hander” and from 1998-2003, they were partners. Fritz would tell people that “the kid” was as nice and genuine off the court as he was talented and gifted on it.
As mentioned, our inductee grew up in the Toronto area and was introduced to the game by his father Joe and mother Joan. Along with brothers Paul and Dan, all helped grow the game at the Kingsway Platform Tennis Club. Today, brother Paul is the Head Pro at Kingsway.
Our honoree has given back to paddle by serving as a longtime member of the APTA Rules Committee and chairing the committee for several years. He has recently been seen refereeing APTA Junior National Finals at the Short Hills Club in the pouring rain wearing the Stulac signature hat.
Our champion also participated in the Canadian Men’s National Championship, winning the event 10 times. It should also be noted that winners of the Canadian Open get their name engraved on the Joe Stulac Bowl, our inductee’s father.
In closing, our Hall of Famer (“the kid”) is without a doubt, one of the finest sportsmen to ever play our sport. He is highly respected on and off the court, and is consistently viewed by his peers as the most competitive, humble, and one of the best sportsmen ever to play on the men’s circuit. At the end of the day, he makes our sport a better game. On the home front, he is married to Kerri Delmonico and together they have the love of both their lives, their daughter, Riley Margaret Stulac.
And now, in recognition of his excellence in play and contributions to the sport, it is my honor and privilege to announce that Mike Stulac is the recipient of the APTA’s highest honor, the Platform Tennis Hall of Fame Award.
MIKE STULAC - ACCEPTANCE SPEECH:
Tim McAvoy – I’ve always admired you for how you’ve handled yourself in all facets of your life. You’re a fierce but gracious competitor on the paddle court. You’re a brilliant American to fall in love with a beautiful woman from Canada. I’m sure I speak for everyone and how inspired we all are by how you continue to kick cancer’s butt time and time again.
I’d also like to thank Steve Baird, the Hall of Fame Induction Committee, and the APTA Board of Directors for this great honor. I’m truly humbled.
My initial attraction to paddle was the strong competition and just playing the game. But what fueled my paddle career were the great relationships I developed through the years. While it would take too much time to thank everyone who had an impact on me, there are a number of people I’d like to recognize.
In 1975, in the town of Etobicoke, a suburb of Toronto, my parents were amongst the group of 10 couples that decided to create the first neighborhood paddle facility by putting up four courts in the middle of a park. The Kingsway Platform Tennis Club, the Fox Meadow of Canada, was born. I spent a lot of my childhood and teenage years playing and hitting balls on those courts. Thank you to Sara and Suzanne Lanthier, the Dogg family, and other friends from Canada for making the trip from up north. It means so much to me.
To my Morristown Field Club team and my partner Clay Diddy, you guys are the salt of the earth. It has been such a pleasure playing league with you guys. I love you all.
Now I’d like to recognize a few of my paddle partners. First of all, Fritz Odenbach. Fritz and I played for five years and it was awesome. We made two National semifinals and had a lot of fun both on and off the court. Fritz is one of my best friends and taught me how to play the game the right way. Compete hard but always do it with class and sportsmanship.
Bill Anderson, he is my paddle Michael Jordan. When the stakes were high, he would always play his best. I would take Billy’s forehand on Nationals weekend over anyone else’s. He was a tough as nails competitor who made us a better team. The 2005 Nationals we played in Pittsburgh included a semifinal war against the defending champions, Flip Goodspeed and Scott Mansager. In the final, Billy and I proceeded to lose the first nine games. I remember thinking we were going to get double bageled. The worst loss in Nationals finals history, a record no one could erase. And then we got the first game and we relaxed and ended up winning in a crazy comeback. It is always amazing to me the ebbs and flows of platform tennis. Billy and I had a great partnership and I felt like we had at least one more National Championship in us, but two seasons later, Billy injured his back playing in Chicago and he had to stop competing. The partnership ended way too soon but it was a lot of fun along the way.
Mark Parsons, he will be the next Canadian in the Hall of Fame. Our partnership was a whirlwind. The year we won Nationals, we lost 6-0, 6-0 to start the season. We struggled most of the year and went into Nationals as the 10th seed. Other than me starting extremely nervous and volleying balls into the side screen in the first round, we went through Nationals without losing a set. To win the Nationals that year was truly special. Mark is a great partner and a better person but if I’m going to use superlatives to describe him, nothing is better than his two-handed backhand.
Now, a couple of old guys. Scott Estes. Every tournament Scott and I enter we significantly bring up the average age. I still love competing with you against these kids and having time to hang out with you during the season. Scott and I have also had success in the 45+ Nationals, being able to capture three titles. Thanks Scott, it’s been fun.
Jeff Morneau and I were able to win the 45s my first year of eligibility. The year we played my confidence in my game was very low and he was great at keeping things light on the court, motivating me, and making sure I was in the best position to succeed. He is a great partner. Thanks Jeff.
Before I acknowledge the next person, let me say the “old” category I referenced is officially finished with Estes and Morneau because the next person would kick my butt if I suggested she was old. My mixed partner and life partner, the infamous Kerri Delmonico. Together we’ve been able to win three Husband and Wife Nationals, and one regular Mixed Nationals. In the Mixed Nationals that we won, when she served we would talk before each point to determine whether I was going to poach at the net. When we were playing in the semifinals, it was the second set, the key seventh game, it was Ad In and I said, “Kerri, I am staying.” She served down the T and I changed my mind. I decided to cross and our opponent hit the ball down my line for a winner. After a number of expletives from my partner, I mean words of loving support, we rallied back to gain another Ad In. I said to Kerri, “I’m staying.” Kerri, in her most supportive tone, said, “Well are you staying going or staying staying?” Kerri is indeed a fierce competitor but also a great wife and an amazing mother. I love you, bud.
To my girls, Cindy, Milbree, Sally, I love you guys. To my U.S family, the Ucko’s, who’ve always been there for me and my family, thank you and I love you. Speaking of family, to my daughter Riley, you’re the best thing that ever happened to me and there is nothing more rewarding than being your father. Mom, thanks for always supporting me, for being a great friend and for being my rock. To my brothers, Dan and Paul, thanks for always being great competition in Toronto and for being great uncles and great friends. Last but not least, my dad. When I think of the Nationals, my most powerful memories are prior to 2001. Every year, a week or two before Nationals, I used to get up with my dad at 5:30 in the morning and go practice. The last time I was on the court with my dad, I was 31. Although you might think I was about 10 when you hear this story. It was my last practice session before Nationals and my dad feeds me a forehand and I miss it badly and it hits the screen on the fly. I was extremely frustrated, so I take the next ball out of the court. My dad said, “Come on Michael.” Still angry, I take the next ball and fire it out of the court. He stops and said, “Michael, don’t worry your forehand is coming.” I screamed back at him, “My friggin’ forehand has been coming for 30 years.” Well Dad, I never really get the forehand but we did alright. I love you and I hope you and Reed are proud.
Thank you again to everyone, I’m so humbled by this honor. I feel much love for you all.