Hall of Fame tennis coach Nick Bollettieri, who died on Sunday at 91, had a connection to Springfield.
Bollettieri spent three summers coaching in Springfield from 1959-61, working for the Springfield Tennis Commission at Snyder Park and Reid Park.
Bollettieri wrote about his experience in Springfield in 2016 for UbiTennis.net. The opportunity came about after he started his coaching career in North Miami Beach, Fla.
“Before long, my name became attached to the excellence of my students and another big opportunity arose. I was offered the job of Director of Tennis for the City of Springfield, Ohio,” he wrote. “The program there was only for the summers and had earned the reputation as one of the best junior programs in America — 1,500 youngsters, dressed in white clothing, attended each week. Although the children paid 50 cents to travel on the bus, the instruction was absolutely free.”
Bollettieri talked to the Dayton Daily News in 1994 when he was coaching at the ATP event in Mason about his time in Springfield.
“I wanted to get into the big municipalities,” he said. “I got the job in Springfield in 1959, and it was one of the top tennis cities in the U.S. We used to get 300-500 children on Wednesdays and Saturdays for free lessons. It was terrific. It helped me a lot. I learned a lot.”
Bollettieri resigned from the Springfield job in 1962 to take a job at Woodmont Country Club in Rockville, Md., but returned in 1963 at the age of 32 when Charles Fry, chairman of the Springfield Country Club tennis commission, hired him as the head pro there.
“We are pleased to have Nick back in Springfield,” Fry told the News-Sun in April 1963, “and feel it is a fine opportunity for the youngsters to work with such an outstanding teacher.”
After leaving Springfield, Bollettieri went on to coach 10 No. 1 players in the world: Andre Agassi; sisters Serena and Venus Williams; Boris Becker; Jim Courier; Monica Seles; Maria Sharapova; Marcelo Rios; Martina Hingis; and Jelena Jankovic. He opened the opened the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy near Bradenton, Fla., in the early 1980s.
Robin Fry, who won a state singles title as a junior at North High School in 1967, benefitted from Bollettieri’s expertise long before they did.
“Nick was a real Florida guy,” Fry told the News-Sun in 2010. “He had a big, long Oldsmobile, and he’d put you in the back of that car and drive 100 miles an hour to a tournament. It was wild. You just played a lot.”
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