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Pioneers of South Dakota Tennis

 By Terry Nielsen

In 2017, tennis fans can only wonder how the word spread in 1928 when Edward Shimkat of Bridgewater defeated Richard Bauer of Sioux Falls to win the first ever, South Dakota state high school singles championship.  A town newspaper, probably a weekly paper, spread the news, as well as word of mouth. 

Today, with the internet, social media, twitter and FaceBook, fans can keep up to speed instantly, as tennis matches progress, for quick results.  Radio and television media also do a great job spreading the word, recognizing excellence in South Dakota tennis.

The SD Tennis Hall of Fame 2017 Achievement Award intends to bring some recognition, though maybe bits and pieces, to “Pioneers of SD tennis.” We hope to recognize those who made their mark from the early 1900’s into early 1950’s.  Several from that era have already been inducted into the SD Tennis Hall of Fame.

For sure, this will NOT be a complete list, but a start as we begin a listing with full intent to add in coming years as names are passed on to us from area statewide tennis fans.  Special thanks for past research to area tennis historians John Mueller of Minnesota and Don Grebin of Sioux Falls, both now gone but never forgotten by tennis fans.  Also, Ken Kessinger did lengthy research on sports history at SF Washington High School.

So off we go:

Junior Donaldson of Yankton, was the first two time state prep champ 1930-31.

Gordon Holden of Britton won two also, 1934-35.

Roger Birdseye of Aberdeen, was state champ in 1929, Scott Rethort of Rapid City in 1932, Percy Klimisch of Yankton 1933, Irving Kaska of “Eastern” 1936, Art Kilness of Sioux Falls 1938 (also won two doubles titles), Eugene Kriens of Watertown 1942, Cliff Anderson Sioux Falls 1948, Dick Olson of Watertown 1951, John Van Why of Vermillion in 1952 and Chuck Bailin of Sioux Falls in 1953.

Mike Rost of Sioux Falls Washington High won three doubles titles 1951-1953, winning once with Chuck Bailin and twice with John Simko.

Jack Kindred and Marty Rud teamed to win doubles titles for Sioux Falls twice, 1939-1940.

Lauren Lewis and John Mandersheid of Sioux Falls won prep doubles in 1933.

Dan Posposel was a top player in Sioux Falls and teamed with Hall of Famer Mike Trueblood to win doubles in 1947, the same year Mike won singles at the state tournament in Rapid City.

Clyde Ainsworth of Sioux Falls Washington was state doubles champ in 1937, teaming with Art Kilness, who had just won the singles title.

Jack Kindred was a fine player at Washington High and was runner up to state champ Jolly Carlson (a Hall of Famer) twice in singles, in 1939 and 1940.

Richard Bauer, John Toohey, Arnold Tremere, Cyril Rock and John Schultz have the distinction of being the first tennis team for SF Washington High (1928-29). The coach was William Bubbers.

Bill Hall and Wayne Aberle were the top players for Washington High in 1935, followed by Gene Roland and Keith Howard the next year.

Washington’s Bob Harum and Dick Arnston won the 1942 doubles title.

For three years in a row in the mid 1940’s no state prep tennis tournament was held.

R.H. Weber came to Sioux Falls as a 27-year-old businessman in 1905 and lost his wife to influenza in the early 1920’s.  R.H. was first introduced to the game of tennis during his travels around the USA at age 42.  He married Lucile in the 1930’s, and his love for tennis led him to give around $6,000 to the city of Sioux Falls to build tennis courts at Terrace Park, to serve the north end of the Sioux Falls. Lucile became a fine player, winning several city titles in the early 50’s. Her best year was 1955 when she won the SD Closed singles, then teamed with Sally Howard to win doubles.

 Paul Hohm of Huron learned the game of tennis with his brother Ted, on their family farm near Yale in the 1920’s.  Paul’s love for tennis later led him and wife Carol to donate over $500,000 to construct indoor tennis courts in Huron in the 1990’s.  Paul said as school kids he and Ted’s prize for field day at school was two tennis racquets, a net and a can of balls.  The boys used a borrowed grader, pulled by horses, to smooth out a “clay-surfaced” tennis court surrounded by poplar trees on their farm.

Orva Fehrenz was a top female tennis player in the late 1940’s-1950, Sioux Falls area.  Vera Prince is remembered as a state Open singles champ in earlier years.

Fred Phillips of Sioux Falls was a top doubles players from Sioux Falls, winning SD Open six doubles titles in seven years starting in 1909.

Ray Branson of Mitchell won three Open state singles titles starting in 1910, and is remembered as a top player who played regional events and earned a national ranking in the top 60.  He was a dominant player until 1915 in SD.

John Wheeler of Brookings won state titles in 1904-1906. (more on him later)

Carl Meyer from Watertown won doubles titles in the SD Open in 1923, 1926.

Emmett Steele out of Madison in the 1930’s is said to have reached a top 10 national ranking.

Don Porter, Madison native born in 1921, went on to USD law school and served as states attorney and Federal Judge out of Pierre.  Porter was a fine tennis player who won state titles in both North and South Dakota during his playing career.

Rapid City fans recall Dorothy Nash both as a fine player as well as tournament organizer, volunteer, starting back in the 1930’s.

Blair Dravis in the early 1950’s was a fine player and instructor in Sioux Falls. His father Les Dravis was often at the courts, running tournaments and leagues for the city as a volunteer.

Carol Kleespies of Sioux Falls won a state junior girls title in the early 1950’s, then won a state and Open title by 1955.  Other area women who excelled in tennis then were Jo Foasberg of Huron and Jean Shaw of Vermillion.

He was not from South Dakota, but in 1925, John Doeg came from California to win the SD Open.  Don Grebin’s research discovered that five years later (1930) John won a national tennis title; one year after Bill Tilden had claimed the title. 

Hall of Famer Bill Clayton played college tennis in the late 1940’s at Washington and Lee University under Coach Fred Perry, who had won the national title in 1933 and 1934.

Miles Brown and Cliff Anderson won state prep doubles for SF Washington High in 1948.

The next year, 1949, Pierre’s Robert Hoffman defeated Aberdeen’s Jerry Popowski for the state singles prep title. Then the title went to Don Grebin (1950).

Other  tennis names from the past are Don Erickson of Mitchell (retired farmer who played daily at the old Hitchcock Park courts), Joe Grimes, Huron’s Ray Schroeder and Franklin Hyde, longtime coach at Pierre, along with  Dr. Bob Ogborn, Wally Steele  and Stuart Grove, all of  Sioux Falls.

Jim Harrison won three state closed doubles titles starting in the early 1950’s. Also, John Hoyapatubbi was a tennis instructor during that time in Sioux Falls.

Dutch Schultz with wife Marilyn of Sioux Falls helped shape the early years of Youth for Tennis, Inc, a fund raising arm that offered tennis instruction for aspiring young players.

Other fine female players in Sioux Falls from the 1940’s on included Mary Ann Davis, Delores Whitcomb, Sharon Kriens and Charlene Fleming (now Char Lamberty.)  Fleming/ Lamberty, a registered nurse, once played doubles with a physician she make hospital rounds with, Dr. V.V. Volin.

George Shapiro made his mark in Sioux Falls also in the early 1950’s. Former Argus Leader sports editor John Egan, living in Sun City AZ in 2004, met up with Shapiro and uncovered some interesting tennis history from the 1949 in Sioux Falls.  George said when he was 19 and living in Sioux Falls playing semi-pro baseball as a pitcher, his catcher was Don Minor. Minor’s day job was maintaining the clay tennis courts at old McKennan Park. George tagged along and in no time was drawn to the game. 

“Tennis and baseball had a lot in common,” said George “hand-eye coordination, footwork, anticipating where the ball is headed, keeping your eyes on it, a quick yet smooth stroke.  Even the service motion is similar to the overhand pitch.”  It became George’s passion and when he moved away and became a university teacher, his entire family played, enhancing their games at Tennis and Life camps in St. Peter, MN with Steve Wilkinson.  Later in life Shapiro spent over 20 years teaching tennis, including coaching junior high tennis students in Sun City during winter months in his retirement.

John Weinbender was a good tennis player in Aberdeen in the early 1950’s.  John was a YMCA leader and taught tennis for many years.  

The John Wheeler tennis saga:

And finally, this story from Tommy Seward, sports editor of the Huron Daily Plainsman in 1955.  His research tells the story of John Wheeler in the spring of 1904.  In one of the greatest tennis marathons ever, John was representing Huron College.  Wheeler won a gold medal by defeating the defending state college champion.   After competing in the state college high jump in the morning, John entered the tennis singles event. 

The defending champion from Mitchell, Ray Branson, was given a bye into the finals.   Wheeler won four matches just to get to the finals, which was the best of five sets.  It went to a fifth set and Wheeler won 9-7, despite cramping in his legs during a hot, grueling day.  That was a total of 116 games of tennis in one day for Wheeler.

That qualifies as one of the most unusual days in the life of a “Pioneer of SD tennis.”

(Editor’s note:  additional names and data for future recognition from the early years to the 1950’s, can be emailed to: