History of the El Paso Tennis and Swim Club

The First Fifty Years, 1921 - 1971

The El Paso Tennis Club History

At last in 1921 the dream came true, the goal was achieved: The El Paso Tennis Club became a reality. There it was proudly occupying a whole city block in a central, convenient location - the block bounded by Arizona and Nevada Streets and by Ange and St Vrain. It had come about through the leadership of E.E. Mike Neft: F. Bailey, Winchester Cooley, C.N. Bassett HE. "Hal" Christie, and N.A Ferguson. They were the nucleus of a group of forty men who had contributed twenty-five dollars each to the building fund for the Club. It consisted of four clay courts, surrounded by a twelve-foot poultry netting fence, and a clubhouse that would bring a King's ransom today as an antique. The clubhouse had a toilet, two showers, a water heater, two wooden benches, a cold cement floor, ten or twelve second-hand lockers from the old Smelter Tennis Club, and a covered porch with a long wooden bench. The courts were finished just in time for the 1921 Southwestern Tournament, in which Walter Bowers beat Eddie Simmons, an El Paso banker, in the finals.

In 1922, N.A Ferguson - Fergie, as he was known to his friends, won the men's singles; then from 1922 to 1930, Fergie won the single (or the doubles with his son, Louie) a total of seven times. He had started his winning ways when he won the Southwestern in 1913, and between 1913 and 1918 Fergie Ferguson and Hal Christie had won twelve singles or doubles Southwestern titles between them.
In addition to their tennis prowess, both men were constant benefactors to the Club. At least four times, when the Club was low in operating funds, Hal Christie and Fergie Furguson were the first to respond to the call for money. Others answering the call were C.N. Bassett, Winchester Cooley, Mike Neff, and F.B. Fletcher.

At first, the El Paso Tennis Club was strictly a men's organization. Neither youngsters nor women were accepted. That situation changed, however, in 1923 when Louie Furguson, George and Willie Cound, Ed Chew, and Harry (Bugs) Vance were admitted to the Club as junior members. Shortly afterwards, women were welcomed. Among the early women members were Dorothy Crawford, Margie McBroom, Elsie Strickland, Helen Caroll, Katherine and Mary Virginia Seamon, Ruth Rawlings, Cella Phillips, Margaret Sutton, Norma Heffler, Bena Perz, Mrs. C. A Mitchell, Elizabeth Loomis, Elizabeth Crowell, and May Belle Long. Since the clubhouse bad been designed for men only, the women found it convenient to accept Chella Phillips' offer to use her home, located directly across the street from the Club, as a dressing room and restroom during tournaments. Chella's mother was known to the women and girls as "Mama," and she fulfilled the name in every way, helping them with anything they might need or want.

Hal Christie said that Fergie had won more titles than Geronimo had scalps, and he had quit counting at a hundred! But about 1926 Ed Chew came into the picture with his unorthodox form and Western grip. He dominated the El Paso men's singles event for eight years. The only other person to beat his record at that time was Chella Phillips, who won the City Women's singles title fourteen times, the doubles title twelve times and the mixed doubles twice with George Cound and once with Russell Ball. Combining the City, Southwestern, and New Mexico State events, her total is over fifty titles in nineteen years. She retired from tennis in 1947 because of a disabling knee injury.
The quality of the clay courts impressed visiting players who played on them in tournaments or in exhibitions - Bill Tilden, Robert and Howard Kinsey, J. Gilbert Hall, Fritz Mercur, Dick Savitt, and Mary Hardwick. All these players were national winners of Clay Court Championships, and without exception each one praised the Club's courts as being the best in the country. Ed Chew and George and Willie Cound were masters at keeping the clay courts in perfect condition.

In 1927, George Cound was runner-up in the Texas Interscholastic meet in Austin, and the next year he and his brother, Willie, won the doubles crown. This feat was not repeated until 1932, when George and Russell Ball became the second team of brothers to win the doubles title for El Paso High School. Then they did it again in 1933.

And thus began the meteoric rise of the Ball brothers-George and Russell. In the next several years they won numerous single and doubles titles. As a tennis family, the Balls have no equal in El Paso. Counting all the titles won by the family members-the patriarch (W.R BalL who took up tennis at the age of 4S and became nationally ranked with his son George in the father-son doubles), his sons (George, Russell, and Joe), and his grandchildren (Rusty, Beverly, Do~ Bill, Joe, Jr., and Beau)-the total is an amazing four-hundred plus.

You have heard of opportunities - well in 1934, George and Russell were attending Northwestern University, and I happened to be in the right place at the right time. With the Balls out of the way, I won the City singles title and was runner-up to George Judson in the Southwestern later that year. Other players who were active in the 1930s included Sol Franklin, Jr., Dr. Robert F. Thompson, Dr. O.J. Shaffer, Louie Kahn, Carl Hertzog. Dr. C.L. ("Doc") Sonichsen, Joe Pennies, Hugh Kilpatrick, Ed Chew, George and Willie Cound, AI Withholder, Mike Murff, Hal Christie, Fergie Furguson, Manny Munoz, Burke Elfers, Dave Koortz, Frank Barger, F.B. Fletcher, Sag Shea, Marshall Finley, and-of-course-the three Ball Brothers. Louie Kahn won doubles titles with several different partners, proving himself to be an excellent doubles partner.

The late '30s were highlighted by men's and ladies' commercial leagues with all matches played at night on the first lighted courts in the Southwest. The lights were strung on wires that ran lengthwise over the middle of each court from fence to fence. It was a shot in the arm for the Club and a real treat for spectators who came from all parts of town to watch-at no admission charge. The leagues ran for about five years until halted by our entry into World War ll.

The Ladies' Pink League was played under the lights every Tuesday during the summer months. Chella Phillips won it three times-in 1935, 1937, and 1939 - with a different partner each year. Other Pink League regulars were May Belle Long, Carmen Pinon (Phillips), Connie Rickard (White), Nena Coldwell (Shapleigh), Mary Elizabeth Schreffler (Smith), Jane Stanley (Thorton), Hazel Withholder, Eddie May Chew (Lyons), Rachel , Alice Phillips, Louise Momsen, Mary Cunningham (Hoover), and Frances Cordova.

Men's league regulars included W.R Ball, L.R. ("Sag") Shea, AI Withholder, Mike Murff, Pete Cosca, Carl North, Hal Christie, Frank Barger, Walter Driver, Lloyd Stanley, F.B. Fletcher, E.B. Elfers, Burke Elfers, the Cotera brothers, Roger Brown, George and Willie Cound, Ed Chew, Carl Hertzog, "Doc" Sonnichsen, John Beaty, Bob Browne, Bob Phillips, Joe Ersingbaus, Dr. W.J. Pangman, Dave Zlabovsky, Hal Elder, Bill Woodul, Manny Munoz, Tino Munoz, Eric Munoz, Frank and Ricky Feuille, Guy and Marshall Finley, Joe and Mike Okies.

Throughout this time, El Paso newspaper readers were kept informed and entertained by W.H. Ball's regular column on the night league games. He had nicknames for everyone, and he employed his ready wit in his descriptions of the matches and the players. Speaking of W.R Ball reminds me that he and another longtime member of the El Paso Tennis Club often mentioned that they couldn't think of a better way to go than to die while playing tennis. As Fate had it, they both "died with their tennis shoes on"- Fergie Ferguson in 1942 and W.R Ball in 1968.

The early '40s brought an influx of players from Fort Bliss which was gaining recruits almost daily as the United States army for possible entry into the war that was raging in Europe. Among the most notable regulars from Fort Bliss were Dick Savitt, who went on to win Wimbledon a few years later, Captain Raymond Stone, Jr., later a General; Lieutenant Brooks Wilson; Sergeant Carl North; and several other good players who made a welcome addition to the Club's membership.

Margaret Varner (Bloss) started her winning ways in 1944, when she won the City singles and then the Texas Interscholastic League singles crown. In 1945, she won the City singles and doubles. From then on, it seemed as though everything she touched turned to love-six love, that is. During a ten-year period, she won the Southwestern singles and doubles, the Texas Open women's singles, five times, and countless other titles. She was nationally ranked in tennis for several years and was a playing member or captain of the United States Wightman Cup team from 1961 to 1966. She also won the Badminton World Championship twice in singles, once in doubles, as well as several national titles in the United States. Further, she was the National Women's Squash Champion for years (1960-1963). Incomparable is the name for Margaret.

The El Paso Tennis Club has been extremely fortunate to have another Margaret as a member - Margaret Osborne DuPont. Any club in the world would have welcomed her as a honorary member, but she chose El Paso for her home and the Club has been the richer for it. She has won numerous singles, doubles, and mixed doubles national and international titles, including the French Championship in 1946 and in 1949, although she declared, "I hate slow courts." She was a member of the Wightman Club Team for ten years and captain for nine.

It was always a real treat to watch the "Margarets" play doubles or mixed doubles with or against Bobby Goldfarb and Walter Driver. It was "big time" tennis in our own backyard!

Coincidental with the end of World War II came a development that would bring a dramatic change to the El Paso Tennis Club. In 1945, the block bounded by Arizona, Nevada, Ange, and St. Vrain Streets was sold to the First Christian Church (which now occupies that site). This sale meant that the Club would have to find a new location. L.R "Sag" Shea was president of the Club at the time, and he was exactly the right man to supervise the "project relocation." "Sag" had long cherished a dream of a larger Tennis Club with expanded facilities. Faced with the need to move by 1948, "Sag" enlisted the help of Ed Chew to find a suitable site and to bring about the move. Shares were offered in the new El Paso Towne and Tennis Club at $100 each. Ruth Rawlings Mott, a longtime member, bought the first share. Her purchase was soon followed by that of W.H Ball, whose $400 check bought shares for himself and each of his three sons. The fund grew, and in 1948 the Club moved into its new quarters in Arroyo Park, its present location. It consisted of six asphalt courts and a modest clubhouse.

The old players, plus a crop of young ones, soon crowded the six courts, and it became evident that, if the Club was to survive, additional courts were needed. Right at that time-in the early '50s, that is - the Club was experiencing serious financial difficulties. But not to worry. Once more, Hal Christie came to the rescue. He became Club manager, without pay, and ramrod for several improvements. By 1954 Hal's compelling leadership resulted in a number of needed and attractive features: a swimming pool was installed, and six plexi-pave courts were added, making a total of twelve courts.

Also in 1954 Hal hired Chella Phillips as Club manager, a post she held for twelve years until she retired in 1966. Under Chella's eagle eye, the Club became a veritable children's care center where parents would leave their youngsters all day long, comfortable in the knowledge that the children were in safe hands.

There was another very important addition to the Tennis Club throughout this period of expansion - a group of fine players who had matured during the war years: Bobby Goldfarb, Walter Driver, Louis Kahn, Sam Kobren, Quillen Cottingham, Leighton Green, Rayburn Lovelady, George Yeldeman, Eliot Shapleigh, Fred McKinstry, Sam Klink, Shirley, Phil, and Eddie Azar, Willie Farah, Linda Livingston, Kay Porter, Mary Jane Withholder, and Mary Ann Baer. Regulars during these years included Pete Cosca, Jim McNeil, Joe Pennies, Ralph Bentz, Joe Ersingbaus, Winston Farquhar, Ricky and Frank Feuille, Jimmy Given, Frank and Sara McKnight, "Skip" Broaddus, David Koortz, Sam Schneider, Bob Phillips, Bob and Joe Hoover, and Eric Debruyn, who showed a lot of class in diving at the swimming pool!

Now came the late, 50's and the decade of the '60s-and again an infusion of young players, many of whom had watched or taken lessons from Leslie Berkes, the Club pro. Leslie's coaching and teaching not only brought new members, but also inspired some of the older members to become more active in the Club. The roster of regular players during those years included many of the old timers - like Marshall Finley, Louie Kahn, George Cound, and W.H Ball and his three sons-as well as lots of newcomers and not-so-newcomers-like Joe Pennies, the two champion Margarets, Sam Schneider, Walter and Carolyn Driver, Bob Hoover, Joe Hoover, the Azars, the Feuilles, Hans Korf, Bob Watson, AM Derrick, Don Shapiro, Duffy Stanley, Colbert Coldwell, sam Kobren, Helen Broaddus, Ann Ersinghaus, Celia Phillips, Sugar Goodman, Sam Klink, Sheldon Hall, Lice Crombie, Mary Heins, Rollin Russell, Eric DeBruyn, Charlie Acuna, Patty and George Janzen, Ann Crombie Reynaud, Bill Updike, Bill Goldfarb, Gene Stogner, Sam Young, Jr., Bob Browne, D.M Merrick, Peter De Wetter, Oren Ellis, Lewis Walker, Fowler Wiggington, "Uncle Roy" Chapman, and Scotty Irving.

Junior members who regularly used the courts in the late 50's and the '60s were Harold and Brent Turley, John Stone, Crley Sensiba, Henry Masterson, John Silverman, Leland Housemand, Linda Livingston, Nancy and Joan Pennies, Kay Porter, Andy, Gayle and Ronnie Kahn (Ronnie voted Athlete of the Year for 1964), Nancy McKnight, Nancy McNeil, Margie Hughey, Choo Choo Chapman, Ateno Garcia, Walter Driver, Jr., and Peggy AzM, Patty and Mary Jane Phillips, Patsy McNeil, Darlene Rose, Jackie Guadagnoli, Jeff Pine, Eliot, Ballard, and Colby Shapleigh, Steve McKnight, Steve Steen, Molly Hoover, and Sam Schneider, Jr. In 1962 the Margie Hughey Memorial Tennis Fund and annual tournament were set up in memory of a very popular sixteen-year-old El Paso Tennis Club star who was killed in an automobile accident. Proceeds for the annual tournament and voluntary donations keep the fund alive. It has helped many promising youngsters in need of financial aid to develop their tennis game. George Yelderman and Ed Edmunds, Jr., were active in the operation of the fund for the first year. The Margie Hughey Tournament almost wholly by the El Paso Tennis Club. In 1982 Don Ball sanctioned the event in order to draw more entrants. Margaret duPont Osborne serves as administrator and welcomes donations to this worthy cause.

Before retiring as manger in 1966, Chella Phillips supervised the installation of fences separating the courts, water fountains for each court, a drainage system for draining water off the courts after a rain, and the practice backboards.

In 1971, the present clubhouse was built. Actually it is an addition to the clubhouse built thirteen years earlier, in 1958. The new building includes the spacious clubroom with a large fireplace, the offices, pro-shop, kitchen, men's and women's locker rooms on the ground floor, while above them is the sitting room which now serves as the El Paso Tennis Club Hall of Honor Room. Also in 1971 the parking lot was expanded and paved. Margaret Osborne duPont made it all worthwhile when she wrote, "Congratulations, El Paso Tennis Club on your steady growth and constant accommodations to tennis, family sport of a lifetime, in the great Southwest."

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