Aberdeen Racquet Club – 1960s-1970s
It goes something like this: Twin brothers Doug and
Dave Smith take a fascination to tennis while growing up
in Aberdeen in the late 1950s. Friends join in on the
fun. The Smiths, now college students in the 1960s with
free summers, recruit a bunch of athletic kids in
Aberdeen to join the tennis fray. And about 30 years
later, Paul Richardson (one of the recruited kids) has a
talented daughter in St. Louis playing "zonals" as a
member of the Missouri Valley Jr. Sectional tennis team.
Woody Boyd (another of the "kids") has a son playing the
game in a big way in Colorado. Yes, a tennis "monster"
was created in Aberdeen years ago. The beat goes on. The
tennis stories are endless. Proof, once again, how a few
can impact so many.
For the influence that era had on our state, the
Aberdeen Racquet Club (1960s-’70s era) is receiving the
2002 SD Tennis Achievement Award.
Who better to tell the story than the Smiths, so
dedicated to growing the game of tennis in Aberdeen?
DOUG SMITH: It was via my involvement with the YMCA
that I ultimately began teaching a group of Aberdeen
boys to play tennis. I had been a volunteer coach for
what was then called "Gra-Y" (grade-school YMCA sports).
I coached the 5th and 6th grade football and basketball
teams of an elementary school called Howard Hedger. As
luck would have it, "Hedger" just happened to have a
bevy of very good little athletes. But Aberdeen had
always been a baseball town. After all, back then we
still had the Aberdeen Pheasants. And in those days,
whenever Spring rolled around, Aberdeen boys’ thoughts
typically turned to baseball. However, I thought to
myself, "Aberdeen tennis needs some ‘new blood.’ And
what better way to put Aberdeen tennis ‘on the map’ than
to recruit the town’s best athletes to the sport rather
than relatively non-athletic guys like me?" So I asked a
bunch of these little guys if they would let me
introduce them to tennis. Without hesitation, they said,
"Sure, Coach." And so it began.
We started in April 1967, and by the time my brother
returned from Stanford about mid-June, some of the
little fellers, like "Donny" Boyd, were already playing
well enough that I felt they were ready to try their
hand at the SD Closed, which was usually played around
the 4th of July. And by that time, interestingly enough,
most of them had already forsaken baseball forever and
had adopted tennis as their new summer sport–and
passion. In looking back upon it, I now regard that
group of kids as my "First Wave." (By starting a group
of players around age 12 and sticking with them through
their "junior" years, which end at age 18, I eventually
came to realize that a "wave" represented about a
six-year commitment to that particular group of kids. I
certainly hadn’t planned anything that far ahead, I
When my brother arrived, I asked him if he would be
willing to help work with the lads, and he agreed to do
so. We each adopted different roles. Always the more
aesthetic player himself, Dave became the "master
technician," providing the boys with the intricate finer
points of stroke production and mechanics. I focused
more on the tactical aspects of the game, to help them
develop strategy. In short, Dave taught them how to hit,
and I taught them how to play. We organized continual
competition among the boys to keep them sharp and then
ended up taking the best of the lot "on the road" to
tournaments. At their first Closed, seven of the eight
quarterfinalists in the Boys 12-&-under were "newcomers"
from Aberdeen. (Tommy Clayton was the 8th–and, of
course, he won the tournament! Nevertheless, we regarded
it as quite a coup. We felt the ship was duly
For several years Dave kept coming back in the
summer, but after he finished his Ph.D. and began
teaching (first at Indiana, then at M.I.T., and finally
at U.Cal./Irvine), he usually had to remain at those
places even in the summer, whereupon I continued to
recruit new players to Aberdeen tennis. I now refer to
that next group as my "Second Wave," and that wave
included girls like the Bell sisters. An English teacher
by training, little did I foresee that my life’s path
would lead me to St. Louis and to developing yet another
three additional "waves" here. Yup, doing the math, that
would be 30 years. And, gosh, I even get paid for it,
DAVE SMITH: When Doug and I grew up in Aberdeen,
1950-62, the only courts in town were six black-tar
courts at Melgaard Park. It seemed the only game in town
was baseball. Our Mom spent her green stamps on two
tennis racquets when we were in 7th grade. Ken (now Dr.)
Vogele took it upon himself to "teach" us tennis. It
came to Doug and me as quite a revelation one day when
Jerry Sayler taught us to hit the ball at our side, on
either side, as opposed to pushing out; front as Ken
taught us. Stu Stoneback joined our gang of three or
four by 10th grade, hitting a hard semi-Western forehand
on every shot that came over the net (what backhand?,
who needs one?). Yes, we then watched in admiration as
Sayler hit his terrific serve, which was always returned
(without much pace) by Terry Jordre.
By our junior year in high school, 1961, Jerry Larson
found us. Here was a true athlete in our gang of
scholars, star of baseball (could catch anything in the
outfield like Willie Mays), basketball (his outside
jumpers won the state basketball tourney), track (when
in college at Augie, Jerry would run cross-country and
then go out to play tennis, winning all his singles
matches and losing only one doubles match in four
years). I suspect I hit more tennis balls in three
summers with Jerry Larson than in the rest of my
life...Ah, but also the summer of 1961 we played a lot
with Jerry Mettler and someone named Tom Daschle.
I remember I got to represent Aberdeen in the state
Jaycees that year, probably my first real competition,
played at Melgaard giving us our first view of "Real
Tennis." This included Sioux Falls’ Jeff Clark, who
could serve and volley like players on our snowy
television sets showing glimpses of Wimbledon. Still,
tennis was so insignificant that in our senior year
(1962), Jerry Larson and I got to represent Aberdeen
Central against Brookings in a real high school match.
Actually, we had to hitch a ride down with the track
team. Jerry and I were doing fine in doubles when the
bus arrived. We had to skip the third set if we wanted a
ride home to Aberdeen, or so I remember.
I headed to college at Northwestern on a General
Motors scholarship, to study engineering and math. I
looked at the tennis team, led by Marty Reissen and
Clark Graebner (who also led the U.S. David Cup team),
and, well, I didn’t bother to try out. I saved my tennis
for summers in Aberdeen. Those were the years,
mid-1960s, when the Aberdeen Racquet Club formed.
About 1966 we got the ear of C. C. Lee, who funded
three new concrete courts across from Aberdeen Central.
These would be stained red and green: a first for
Aberdeen. Designed for Mr. Lee by Don Boyd, Sr., a
high-grade cement was used, one that would not require
resurfacing despite the hard winters.
A backboard was built by volunteers from the North
Side. That backboard meant that the Finley brothers
would grow up to play tennis and our "First Wave" of
juniors would have to retrieve balls from the Finley
yard next door.
Players like Keith Levi grooved some fine strokes on
that board. There’s nothing like a backboard.
By 1962-66, we’re getting serious. Rick Hoff, Bob
O’Brien, as well as Jerry Larson: I hit thousands of
balls with these three in the early 1960s.
Somehow Doug and a bunch of us "organized" the
Aberdeen Racquet Club, and this group (no parliamentary
by-laws, please, just Gladys Smith’s living room) got
the crazy notion of running a serious tournament!
We had been to the SD Closed and Doug and Jerry did
very well in doubles one year. And, hey, why not a
tourney in Aberdeen? So the C. C. Lee Open started
August 5, 1966 on the new C. C. Lee Tennis Courts.
Famous players like Don Grebin and Dave and Tom Weber
from Sioux Falls came. And, of course, I gotta think,
Lefty Johnson from Brookings. Tennis had really come to
In the Fall of 1966, with a Woodrow Wilson
Fellowship, I started work on a Ph.D. in philosophy at
Stanford, way out in California. For four years, I
studied philosophy with the greats, and became a
philosopher myself, a phenomenologist by trade (one who
studies the structure of our own experience, whether
thinking or seeing or playing tennis). For those same
four years, I played a lot of tennis on the Stanford
courts, next to tennis great Roscoe Tanner and later
John McEnroe. So engineer turned philosopher learned
tennis by watching players like Stan Smith (who looks
more like Doug than I do), and Bob Lutz and all the
great USC and UCLA players of that era. And pros John
Newcombe and Tony Roche and Ilie Nastase and Manuel
Santana, who played events nearby.
I learned also by gleaning informal coaching from the
greatest tennis coach of all time, Stanford’s Dick
Gould, whose teams have won more NCAA titles than
anyone. During those years (1966-73), I spent my summers
in Aberdeen with new stroke information from Dick Gould.
I drove my 1966 Valiant from Stanford to Aberdeen in
mid-June 1967. And there began a wonderful relationship
of the Smith twins with all those really cool young
dudes learning tennis, and their parents who supported
the whole notion of their kids leaving town to become
real tennis players: Levi, Rob Davies, Donny Boyd, Jeff
Murphy, Rob Wylie, and all the crew that Doug has
realized were the "First Wave."
And so, with Douglas Woodruff Smith’s organizational
skill, we began a mini-version of what decades later
would be a Bolletieri tennis academy. All gratis. All
grassroots. And all wood: racquets! The tennis world of
the Northwest (so-called) was small but vibrant. Doug
and I took three kids all over God’s creation:
Brookings, Sioux Falls, Rapid City, Minneapolis,
Duluth...driving the Levi station wagon, the Sauck
Winnebago, the Myers camper, etc. And lo and behold, the
Aberdeen kids scored.
I brought the "Wisdom of Stanford" on California
stroke production, while Doug brought his genuine guru
role, organizing the group into a formidable social unit
and developing strategic skill (not least in doubles,
where Aberdeen duos would regularly rout their singles’
superiors!). From there, the guys’ rich social life took
over, all the stories they can tell about those road
trips away from home, including who beat whom from
No wonder all these folks are heading to Sioux Falls
for the Aberdeen Era day again in the sun!