Ronnie remembers playing tennis at City Park
May 22, 2012 by Billy E. Crawford
Q. Where were you born?
A. I was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, on May 1, 1934.
Q. Where did you attend high school?
A. I attended Saint Joseph Seminary in Covington until the middle of my sophomore year; I then transferred to Jesuit High School in New Orleans.
Q. How old were you when you started playing tennis?
A. I was 16 years old and the year was 1950. That summer I participated in a tennis clinic at City Park, run by Ms. Rita Krupp, sponsored by the CYO. All instructors were volunteers from the City Park Men’s and Women’s Tennis Clubs. About 300 children participated in the free clinic each summer. It was a perfect activity for a high- energy child who needed an outlet.
The system consisted of having 20 children per instructor on most of the courts, 10 children per instructor on a few courts, diminishing in number of students until reaching courts with one on one. The goal for each child was to move to a shorter line as the player got better. Each child in line was fed 10 balls and as quickly as he picked up balls he had hit, he could move to the back of the line. I asked Ms. Krupp how I could move to a shorter line and she said that I would have to show her I was practicing and improving. I was there every day. In no time I had graduated to a 1 on 1 court.
Q. Who influenced you and contributed to your love for tennis?
A. Naturally, my first teacher, Rita Krupp had the greatest influence, and I will be forever in her debt. She was the one who called and set up an appointment for me to take lessons from Emmett Pare’, tennis coach at Tulane and Pro at the New Orleans Lawn Tennis Club. No one could turn Rita down, so he started working with me. He took me to another level, no doubt about it. Emmett was known nationally and respected as one of the foremost teachers in the country at the time. He charged $2.50/hour, but never asked for the money. If I didn’t have it one week, I would bring it the next week.
The third person was Vincent DiStefano. Vincent, in his mid-thirties, was a former state men’s champion, and I had no idea of his many tennis accomplishments at the time. One day he came to the court where Hank and I were playing and introduced him-self. That day, he played one set with each of us. The 6-0 set was the first of many love sets he bestowed on us over the next two years. We started playing two or three times a week and each time we took a couple of love set losses before retiring, exhausted. He was extremely accurate and usually got us out of position in two hits. Our goal immediately was to get the ball back three and then four times each point. We found out early on that the deeper we it the ball, the more time we had to run down his return. In one year with Vince and Emmett, I went from total beginner to state high school champion.
Rita Krupp gave me enthusiasm and love for the game.
Emmett Pare’ gave me the fundamentals of the game.
Vincent DiStefano developed my competitive spirit.
Q. Please describe the City Park Tennis Facility back then?
A. As I remember, there were 45 tennis courts at that time, most of which were rubico. There were some rough street asphalt courts with wire nets. The courts were close together and the “feature court” was so close to the fence that a good American- twist serve could go into the fence before it could be returned. The City Park Men’s and Women’s Tennis Clubs leased several courts on an annual basis, and provided free usage to its members year round. Annual dues were $10.00/adults and $5.00 for juniors. Our clubhouse was located over the big casino and consisted of a large mulit- use room, a locker room, and George’s room. George was a full time attendant who supplemented his salary by selling soft drinks, cold beer, and providing a laundry service. Memberships cost $10.00/year for adults and $5.00/year for juniors. Lockers cost $2.50. Laundry service for tennis clothes included ironing, and folding, cost 25 cents/outfit. Beer was 25 cents, and cokes were a nickel. Benches in front of the lockers also served as card tables for Gin Rummy Games. This is NOT a perfect outlet for a high-energy child who needed an outlet. There was an open- air balcony where Fraser Thompson held free astronomy classes on Sunday nights, which added to the warmth and camaraderie for the membership. Thompson was a Math and Astronomy Professor at Tulane University. In two years I got to know every club member by name.
Q. What were the first tournaments you participated in?
A. My first tournament was in August of 1950, for all new participants in Rita’s summer clinic. It was a memorable event for me, because I played my first match against Paul Daigrepont. I played as though Paul had a gun on his person, and would shoot me if I hit any ball on the court. I lost that match 6-0, 6-2 after which I found out that the tournament was double elimination. I went on to win the tournament and had my picture in the newspaper with the other winners. Looking at me, you would have thought that I had won Wimbledon (which I didn’t know exist at the time because it was played outside of City Park.)
My next tournament was the City Park Junior Tournament the following spring. I played Henry Jungle in the finals and came back from being down 5-2 in the third set to win 7-5. Although we played many matches after that, this was my last victory over him. We didn’t play another tournament until Labor Day when Henry and I rode the Greyhound Bus to Shreveport for the Louisiana State Championships. It was the only tournament in the state that drew players from out of state, mostly Texas. All other Tournaments in the state were city or club events. In those days, Junior Tournaments had age brackets of 13, 15, and 18 and under. As I was already 16 when I started playing, I was automatically in the 18’s. My first two years in tennis consisted of those three tournaments total. Henry and I were very proud of our runner-up finish in Shreveport, but unfortunately, we kept our trophies on our laps for the bus ride home. Of course, we went to sleep and when the bus stopped in Alexandria, Jungle stood up and his trophy fell and broke. Mine met the same demise at Baton Rouge. So, all we had to show for our trip was two broken trophies. My last year in the 18’s was jam packed with tournaments: in Tampa, Davidson, N.C., and all over the South, resulting in scholarship offers from LSU, Loyola, and Tulane.
Q. Why did you attend LSU?
A. Dub Robinson was the tennis coach at LSU and very proud of his son Tommy, who was three years my junior. It seemed like I played Tommy in every tournament I went to in the summer of 1952. I think I just “had his number” and beat him every time we played. In mid-July, Dub called, offering me a full tennis scholarship, which I accepted immediately. My goal was to play for Emmett at Tulane, but he offered Buddy Lomax and Henry Jungle the two scholarships that he had available. In August, Ken Atherton reported to Emmett that he was not returning in the fall. Emmett called me with an offer. I told him I had committed to LSU, and he encouraged me to stand by my word. LSU was not my first choice, but it turned out to be the best choice in the long run.
Q. After graduating, what were your next career steps?
A. After graduating I spent two years in the Service, a short time in Graduate School, banking in California for a year and a half and returned to New Orleans to be athletic director for the Jewish Community Center.
Then the call came.
Billy McGehee and several of the better players in Baton Rouge frequently worked out with the varsity team at LSU, and developed a close relationship with the players, especially me. His good friend, Eddie Davis, was in Graduate School at the time. Billy, a “greenie” knew Henry; and he and Henry had many matches together against Eddie and me. It always turned into a war. So, Billy would invite Henry to Baton Rouge frequently during the summers that we were in school. I spent so many nights at the McGehee home. I had my own room! In 1962, I was working at the JCC when Billy called and asked if I would like to work as Tennis Director in Baton Rouge. I told him no, because I had never taught and no experience running a tennis program. Before the day was out Billy had persuaded me to take the job of Director of Tennis for East Baton Rouge Recreation and Parks Commission. (BREC). It was one of the best decisions in my life. Billy was chairman of BREC during my four-year tenure, and was true to his promise to getting me everything I wanted from BREC within reason, including starting salary. Harry Barton was President of the Baton Rouge Tennis Club, so I had close friends in high places. There was a very enthusiastic tennis group in town, and this combination resulted in a tennis boom in Baton Rouge. In 1964 a steering committee was formed to explore the possibility of a private tennis club. Bocage Racquet Club opened in November of 1965, and I was hired as Pro and Manager. Billy, Harry and I worked ceaselessly to promote tennis and Bocage in the city for the next 17 years.
Q. Mr. Fenasci, what are some of the highlights of your career?
A. In 1964, I was the guest of Martin Tressell, President of the USTA, to conduct a two-day tennis clinic in his home town with Tony Trabert.
In the spring of 1969, the first Bocage Senior Tournament was held. It has enjoyed a National reputation as one of the best tournaments in the country up to the present time.
In 1973, I brought in tennis greats John Newcombe, reigning Wimbledon Singles Champion; Rod Laver, two-time Grand Slam Winner; Roy Emerson, one time record holder of most grand slam wins; and Cliff Drysdale, for a $10,000 winner take all tournament.
In 1975, Bocage held a one- day clinic directed by Harry Hopman, Captain of the Australia Davis Cup team for 19 years (beating the US Davis Cup team 16 years during that time).
In 1979, was host to a Legends Tournament that included former Wimbledon Champions in the 16- player- field.
I helped form and was the first President of the Louisiana Tennis Association. I was President of the Southern Tennis Association for two years. I was selected as Chairman of the Ethics Committee of the United States Professional Tennis Association. I held the first money tournament for teaching professionals at Bocage. I won every award given by the Southern Tennis Association, such as Pro of the Year.
In 2003, I was selected into the Louisiana Tennis Hall of Fame.
My biggest wins were:
- The Korean National Single Championship
- The Sugar Bowl Doubles Championship
- The Southern Men’s 45s Singles Championship