Let’s Make American Tennis Great Again
(Dan Parham)

– 5 minute overview, 10 minutes questions after my overview
– Today I will focus on a proposed solution … if anyone would like to talk more about how we ended up in this position, I’m happy to answer those questions over a beer after my allotted time today.

Over the past 35 years, the number of top ranked US players has declined drastically. For example, right now there are zero top 10 ranked men in the ATP, and two in the WTA. By comparison, in 1970, there were x men and x women in the top 10. Additionally, we’re giving approximately 7,000 scholarships a year (~$200m/year) to international players. In comparison, the USTA spends $18m/year on player development.

What if we invested these resources into American tennis players? Would we see a dramatic increase in top ranked players in the next 10 years? Either way, we will have allocated tens of thousands of scholarships to young Americans, investing over $250m in educational resources into the US economy. Let’s build a coalition of supporters of American tennis to test this theory. Our goal is the adoption of a new policy by the NCAA that requires 70% of men’s and women’s scholarships to be allocated to US citizens over the next 10 years.

Measuring success
We expect to see a 300% increase in Americans in the top ten men’s and women’s worldwide rankings by 2027 (ten years).

Accomplishing our goal
Today we are all here as leaders in the American college tennis community. We have the potential to build a grassroots coalition of likeminded supporters of American tennis. Once we determine our strategy, we can leverage our collective relationships to determine the strengths, weaknesses, threats, and opportunities of our campaign. We’ll start by privately approaching Tim Russell, CEO of the ITA privately, and understand the ITA Board’s concerns with our proposal. Once we have their support (or opposition), we will reach out to the ITA coaches to help us demonstrate their support for our proposal. We’ll state the potential benefits and consequences of this policy shift, and petition the NCAA to make the changes. If they refuse to consider our proposal, we’ll explore a legal approach.

The first question is, is it legally possible to reserve a percentage of scholarships for US citizens? We may need to hire a legal expert to determine the complexity of our proposal if necessary. We need to understand the incentives of the ITA Board, the ITA members, NCAA, or USTA have an incentive to incur the cost of fighting this proposal. We should address any negative consequences in our proposal. For example, we understand that we would eliminate some great international players (and scholars) from our institutions. It is also probable that the overall quality of competition would decrease in the near term, and that this could put some smaller college programs at risk. Finally, there would be a decrease in the “diversity” of students in our higher education institutions. We are willing to take these risks.

Next Steps
Determine the right legal and financial structure to support this campaign. Is there an existing non-profit that we could leverage as a fiscal sponsor to move more quickly?
Start a coalition of supporters to staff and fund this campaign. Establish a working leadership council with clear roles and responsibilities, and a decision making process.
Identify an internal or external program manager with campaign experience and strong relationships in the ITA to plan, manage, and execute our campaign.
If we face resistance from the ITA or NCAA, we will need to hire a legal team experienced in NCAA policy and laws to litigate this proposed change.
Identify the ideal leader for the campaign coach.


One professor had decided P.E. majors on full scholarship ought to play two sports. This was because he was having trouble filling the track squad he coached. With the implication being that he might influence grades if we didn’t agree, I began to wonder.
He approached me, sized me up and decided I’d make a fine middle distance runner on his team. Uh, oh!
I convinced him that basketball season had left me “burned out” and given two weeks rest, I’d come out for track.
Two weeks to the day I reported in black converse low tops, to track practice at Fleming Stadium, home of the Wilson TOBS (Tobacans). Today was the scene of a blue-white track meet. This later was the scene for the “rain-out” mudslide featuring Kevin Costner in Bull Durham. But today it was fireball Parham in the
440 yd. 880 yd., and leg on the blue team relay.
I was exhausted the first twenty yards of the first event. And so, in the last
one (the mile relay) when called on to run the last lap, I watched from half way around, as the other team crossed the line. The race was over and so was I. I began to “walk it in”. As I walked into the final turn of the track, the manager, clipboard in hand, ran at me yelling, “don’t quit, don’t ever quit”. I replied, “Who the fuck are you? Winston Churchill?” All the while I was wondering how the hell to get out of this trap.
While I’d long been proud of my dad’s tennis win in Madison, I’d played very little myself. Robbins had only one court; an abandoned asphalt topped private court belonging to a dentist, Dr. Alexander. We convinced him to let us repair the court, and my senior summer we played a little. The only other courts were in Southern Pines, and if we went down there to sneak on, the “redneck detector” buzzed and we were evicted. No River Rats.
There were six black topped courts in Wilson in 1961. The first people I saw play while wandering around this court at the Recreation Center were Bobby Dunn and Walt Brown. I was amazed at how hard they could hit a tennis ball. I enrolled in a “P.E.” tennis class held on the brand new five court “green” surfaced (by Van Sumner) college facility. Ed Cloyd was my P.E. department chairman and he and my P.E. teacher were about to establish the first summer tennis camp in North Car- olina. (Page 109) Virginia Skillman was an adjunct teacher Mr. Cloyd knew, and I was lucky to stumble into her class. Mrs. Skillman, soon to become a friend and colleague, was a godsend. Stately, constantly smiling, she had authored a tennis instruction book in the Wadsworth series on P.E. books, under her maiden name, Virginia Dumas. Virginia’s husband, Frank, worked for Dupont and their family members were all a part of the summer camps to come. Later Virginia played Frank in the Singles Championship at Kinston, NC. Virginia let Frank win.
Bobby Dunn, having graduated as a fine math major the previous May, had returned to get a second degree. He had decided to teach and coach, a choice Ed Cloyd and staff convinced hundreds to make. Bobby was also the assistant basket- ball coach, while still living in the dorm. He was sworn to silence.
About the time I’d cussed out the track manager, the man just hired to coach the men’s tennis (no women’s team) became ill to the point he resigned. One after- noon Bobby came to the dorm and stated; “now I’m the tennis coach, too”. Here was my chance. I asked Bobby what you had to do to qualify for the team and he
said, “be warm and breathing”. The next day I’d borrowed a wooden P.E. racket from one-eyed 81-year-old Hugh Faley Bowen, Mr. Cloyd’s P.E. equipment room manager. I hit for the green courts by the creek, not knowing what it would yield me.
The team was so weak; in five practices I was #4. Please don’t take that to mean I was tennis-talented. But this was a weak team. And I loved it, even losing to skinny, redheaded lefthanders, who were about as athletic as cheese.


There were four coaches there including me. Coach Leighton rolled up with rackets & balls. He wore traditional white and it matched his hair. He looked like “Colonel Sanders”.
After pleasantries and introductions he began speaking in a new language. Two puzzled coaches left in ten minutes. The other at noon. Coach Leighton was a master teacher, and my first introduction to someone that knowledgeable about the game. I was fascinated. One of his players, Paul Caldwell, was with him. When the other guy left, leaving only me, I was embarrassed, both by how much Leigh- ton knew, plus my own misjudgment about my greatness: I offered to abandon the afternoon session. I was delighted and impressed as Coach responded, “Tom, we’ve agreed to stay until 4:00. I can tell you are interested in learning. As long as you’ll stay, we’ll stay.”
Our college offered two hundred dollars per year for “professional growth” at convention trips. I never again spent mine on anything but my new mentor. Coach Jim Leighton. He would try to refuse my money, but I’d have paid triple.
I was in his home, at his club, at his varsity practices, watching tapes on every- thing from his current players to sequential pictures of Ellsworth Vines.
He had just completed “Inside Tennis: Techniques of Winning.” This book, much of the information by Leighton himself, also included contributions by Den- nis Van Der Meer, Welby Van Horn, Chet and Bill Murphy, Wayne Sabin, Pauline Betz Addie and others.
I loved Leighton and the book. I had so many questions. I’d book time on his Buena Vista Road home in Winston-Salem. We’d talk about the book, with explanations by Coach Leighton. I felt like Moses on the Mount.
The USTA held our annual Teacher’s Convention just prior to the US Open in Flushing Meadow. One year Jim and I made all most every session. Every coach seemed to want to use his session to further his tennis standing. At one session Leighton’s bullshit detector kicked in.
A coach was trying to sell a lame idea as the end of all tennis instruction; Leighton politely questioned the man’s premise.
The clinician sloughed off this old white-haired guy’s puzzlement.
Again coach queried: “I want to make sure I’m understanding what you’re saying.” An abrupt “am I not speaking plainly enough?” Selling the same lame premise, the clinician was startled when Leighton rose and stated: “Sir, you are addressing the tennis teachers of American and beyond. Never have I heard such a crock of baloney.”
He turned to me and said “Get up Tom, we’re getting out here!” I followed beside him.
One day at the New York host hotel he asked, “Do you want to hear someone who knows tennis? Sure! “Meet me in the lobby at 6:30 AM for breakfast.”
I joined Coach and Chet Murphy in a downtown café. Chet and Bill Murphy were Californians who knew the biomechanics of tennis. I’d heard Chet Murphy as a clinician. He seemed nervous, my having heard so much about him, but once the first technical question was asked, he was off and running. This morning Leighton did something I’d never seen him do. He deferred to Murphy, asking questions the way I’d asked of him. And while there was great mutual, respect. I’ve got to say Murphy was impressive.
I was all ears. This was a time when all kinds of research was being done in tennis. I was pleased with the next question asked by Coach Leighton. “Chet, how do you feel about what we’ve done?” (Meaning the old time proponents of “classic” tennis instruction.)
Chet thought a moment and said: We should have let them hit more western grip forehands. Other than that everything was right.”
Coach Leighton was buried the day the “Jimmy Powell Tennis Center” was dedicated at Elon in 1988. It was in Wait Chapel on the campus that had named their stadium after this fine man, coach and friend.

1984 (430)

It’s never easy to win that tournament. Nineteen eighty-four was no exception. Early rounds are played in six different sites, all over metropolitan Kansas City. I elected to stay with our #4 player, a true Indian gentleman, Jagadish Gowda. Our number 3 player was accompanied by no less than our college president, Dr. James Hemby. Linne was 6’5”, 200 lbs., long hair, and looked like Alice Cooper.
We knew things were tight. No one could lose early if we were to have a chance. So, when Jag got down 6-1, 5-1 (30-15). I was ready for one of those “sinking moments” in coaching. Add to that, Jim Hemby rode up in quite a panic for a college president. Thomas, he says, had pulled hamstring up near his butt. And having won the first set, is losing fast. The trainer in charge says he can play only if we put a football styled hip-girdle on him before the impending third set.
With limited time and big city traffic to fight, I was perplexed. But I got “paid the big bucks” to make smart moves.
Actually it was pure luck. Luck that Virginia Hassenflu walked up at that very moment. Mrs. Hassenflu was one of the honorary coaches, and her husband, Art was a fine businessman and tennis fan. No nicer couple. However, Mrs. Hassenflu forgive me, Virginia, had an “ass you could throw a sheet over and show home movies”. If there was one person who’d know girdle details, I’d found her. Virginia, “girdle angel”, said she knew just the thing. We agreed to meet at Thomas’ site, the Kansas City Country Club, at that time Tom Watson’s home club.
I left a “buried” Jagadish on the run. I beat Virginia by minutes, enough to find Thomas and the trainer, the second set just having been lost by our injured Swede.
I told the trainer and Thomas of our plan as Mrs. Hassenflu waddled toward us, paper bag in hand. I grabbed the bag and Thomas and headed to the dressing room.
Thomas dropped his trousers and stood on a bench. But then he said, “I’m not going to wear that thing.”
The women’s girdle I’d unfolded was pink, garter attachments dangling, and had three pink orchids on it. By God you are too, Thomas as I yanked it over his shoes. I had to tape him too, and did it so fast I’m not sure what we “bound”.
If God cares, we were blessed. Thomas won the third set and the match. It took a while for things to “loosen up”, plus he had to push up the garter belts into his shorts periodically, but it was helluva coaching move.
As Dr. Hemby and I giggled, we took Thomas for the proverbial McDonald’s burger. We were near Gowda’s courts and I slid in the parking lot to pick him up. Lo and behold there he was playing match #2. Later I called him “Houdini” for getting out of that trap. Gowda said he found out his opponent couldn’t hit an overhead. Lob City! Gowda is still mystical.


When they presented me with the 1990 National “Coach of the Year” for NAIA Tennis, I tried to give it to Coach Fred Kniffen of the University of Texas at Tyler. Fred had a firm rule in 1990 that no one rode in the van without their seat belts. No exceptions. En route from Tyler to Kansas City one of two team vans ran off a 35-foot bank. All belted, there was one minor injury.


For anyone who is interested in my writing, here are links to my books:

  1. THE LITTLE GREEN BOOK of TENNIS is my opus.
  2. PLAY IS WHERE LIFE IS. My first book.
  3. A LOT ( A Level of Thinking). A mixture of serious and fun items, collected by an old coach.
  4. HELPING.  This includes more tennis, much post-THE LITTLE GREEN BOOK of TENNIS.  Much is a repetition of blog articles.  Maybe more important is the back half of this book , as it chronicles a thorough collection of data on the issue (s) of international college tennis players in the USA.  The history of this ongoing  problem is here.
  5. THANKSGIVING.  This is a hard copy of selected blog articles, writings, family history.  Personal pictures in the back are beach and family/friend/fish oriented.
  6. NEARLY FIFTY.   My friend, Earl  (Country) Boykin of Rock Ridge, N.C,  hosted a  “duck hunting party” for fifty – one years continuously.   It started with the first super bowl. We moved to Back Creek near Bath, N.C.  and did run over a duck. From there to Emerald Isle, N.C. The book reviews, through print and pictures, the principal characters, and some of the events.