Monday, July 30, 2012 2:30am
The Farmers Classic, presented by Mercedes-Benz and part of the Emirates Airline US Open Series, is like no other men’s professional tennis tournament in the world. Owned by the Southern California Tennis Association, the only USTA section to hold such a position, the annual July event benefits both the SCTA and its partner, UCLA’s grassroots programming.
Bill Tilden was the first winner of the tournament contested, in 1927, at the historic Los Angeles Tennis Club. In those days, the competition followed the US National Championships in September, and it was called the Pacific Southwest. Over the years, the dates have changed and so has the name/title sponsor. It was known, at various times, as the Jack Kramer Open, Volvo Tennis/Los Angeles, Mercedes-Benz North America, Countrywide and now Farmers Classic.
Because of its "place to be" appeal in the early days, the 86-year-old event was a Hollywood magnet for movie stars. Attendees included Jean Harlow, William Powell, Clark Gable and Carole Lombard, to name but a few. In time, television personalities like Johnny Carson were among the on site regulars.
The tournament has existed as a means of raising funds to grow the game in Southern California. In her seminal book "Southern California Tennis Champions 1887 – 1987", Pat Yeomans, a long-standing SCTA Board member and the section’s historian, noted, "The Youth Tennis Foundation was started in 1955 to provide clinics and instruction. Balls and racquets were often donated. Noel Brown arranged the original clinics and he used people like Tony Trabert, Pancho Gonzalez, along with Vic Braden and Paul Xanthos, who both won USLTA Tennis Education Merit Awards in 1974, to make presentations."
The "tennis shows" took place in gymnasiums throughout the section. These introductions to the game were the precursor of what has now become the Schools Program.
Yeomans said, "Perry T. Jones was the SCTA President, and the original (Youth Tennis Foundation) budget was $15,000. On April 17, 1957, the IRS declared YTF donations to be tax deductible."
This fall the Pacific Southwest Youth Tennis Foundation will change its name. "It will become the Southern California Tennis Association Foundation," Henry Talbert, Executive Director, said. "SCTA Board members William (Bill) J. Kellogg, Franklin Johnson, Jim Bisch, Carlos Cruz Aedo and Rosalind Shumway, along with Farmers Classic Tournament Director Bob Kramer, are involved in bringing about the change. We are looking for others to join the effort and become leaders. The goal is to provide more active help for youngsters who need assistance. The hands-on approach will help with tournament entry fees and other tennis related necessities so that more youngsters are able to participate."
Thanks to LA84 Foundation’s commitment to NJTL, the SCTA has been able to offer both summer, and a collection of Year-Round programs, for 27 consecutive years. The national emphasis on 10 and Under Tennis, the current "introduce the game" method, is another focus. "We are looking to assist community tennis efforts in bringing about more opportunities for players and coaches," Talbert said. "This means getting local groups to hold clinics and workshops, along with establishing programs like after school tennis clubs."
Perry Jones, the father of the game in the section, believed, told Yeomans, "Over the long term the Youth Tennis Foundation cannot help but develop greater numbers of championship tennis players in Southern California. Our record historically, is unmatched in international competition. As a corollary benefit, the Foundation will help us not only maintain but also improve that position."
Encouraging more young people to play more tennis in more places in Southern California, as Yeomans detailed, requires funding, which is an objective Talbert and the Board of Directors are anxious to achieve. Fortunately, the Jack Kramer Family Foundation, dedicated to the memory of the legendary player, promoter and tennis advocate, is providing support. "The Kramers have made a wonderful gift," Talbert said. "We (the SCTA) are looking to establish a matching endowment. Simply stated, with more, we will be able to do more, and the section and those involved, in the sport, will benefit."
In 1955, Robert Sibert, the initial Chairman of the Fund Raising Committee, said, "A small group of people have contributed a great deal of time and money to launch the Youth Tennis Foundation and it has proved an outstanding success. Funds are urgently needed now to carry on and expand the excellent work being done. We earnestly solicit your support."
Fifty-seven years later the name will changed, but the situation remains the same. To play a role in making Southern California tennis even better, either through a time or a financial commitment, please contact Henry Talbert at Henryt@scta.usta.com
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