Recognizing the Best
Every year, the International Tennis Hall of Fame inducts three or four people who have had a major impact on tennis, whether as a pro player or as a “contributor” to the game, such as a media member, coach, administrator, or official. Those chosen to be in the Hall by the international panel that selects them are certainly all more than worthy to receive this honor.
There is, though, one person who has yet to make it into the Hall, and we think he deserves to be there. It’s time to induct Dennis Van der Meer.
No one has had such a direct impact on thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of recreational players throughout the world than has Van der Meer. He has taught more people to play and teach tennis than anyone in the history of the game. He’s a coach, innovator, advocate, and tireless promoter for the sport, as he has been for decades.
Van der Meer has personally taught thousands to play this game. And through the thousands of coaches he has influenced through the Professional Tennis Registry, which he founded in 1976, his influence in tennis probably extends to millions of recreational players. And it’s not just in this country, it’s worldwide — the PTR currently has more than 12,700 members in 126 countries.
Earlier in his career, Van der Meer coached both Margaret Court and Billie Jean King. He was in King’s corner during the famous Battle of the Sexes with Bobby Riggs. In 1972, the U.S. State Department cited him for Exceptional Coaching Performance in the Middle East, and in 1989, he received the Healthy American Fitness Award. He was named Developmental Coach of the Year by the U.S. Olympic Committee in 1997.
Over the course of his career, in addition to helping recreational players learn and excel at tennis, he’s also coached men and women pro tour players. And he and the PTR also are leaders — not just in the U.S., but internationally — in spreading tennis to wheelchair players and physically and mentally challenged players, too.
Nominations for the 2008 Hall of Fame induction close April 1 (visit www.tennisfame.com to submit nominations), and I know there are plenty of worthy contributors to the sport who deserve — one day — to be in the International Tennis Hall of Fame. But now, it’s time we recognize the one person who simply far and away has had such a major, positive impact on this worldwide sport.
Induction into the Hall of Fame in the “Contributor” category is based on “exceptional contributions that have furthered the growth, reputation, and character of the sport.” That, in a nutshell, is exactly what Dennis Van der Meer has been doing for more than 50 years — better than anyone else in the history of this sport.
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About the Author
Peter Francesconi is editorial director of RSI magazine.