Tennis was the favorite
recreational offering in the Bill and Sally Clayton
household. And it was embraced wholeheartedly by son Tom
Clayton at a very early age. His rise as a top junior
player, culminating with two South Dakota high school
singles titles, brings about his induction into the 2006
SD Tennis Hall of Fame.
Growing up a block from the old
concrete courts of McKennan Park meant that tennis was
basically a backyard sport for the Clayton family. “I
remember balls all over, kids and racquets…mom and dad
hitting with each other, then to us, as our introduction
to tennis,” said Tom.
Tom transferred summer lessons at
the park, headed by Don Grebin, into a very nice prep
career. As a sophomore at Washington High (1971) he lost
in the state finals to his brother Billy (a senior at
Lincoln High). That was to be his last loss as a prep
singles player for Washington High.
As a junior, Grebin, now the
Warrior coach, predicted Tom would go undefeated. He
defeated Lincoln’s Greg Wilcox for the state
championship 10-7. As a senior in 1973, with the start
of the Sioux Interstate Conference with the Sioux City
schools, Tom claimed that title also, downing North’s
Doug Browne 7-5, 7-5 for the conference title.
Tom then capped two years of
undefeated play by beating friend and summer doubles
partner Keith Levi of Aberdeen Central 10-4 to repeat as
state champion. (Levi got revenge by teaming with Bruce
Mannes to win the doubles over Clayton and Warrior
teammate Randy Melham, 10-7).
Tom and Levi went on that summer
to earn the #1 ranking in boys 18 doubles in the
Northwestern Tennis Association. They played most
tournaments together throughout the summer in the 14s,
16s, and 18s.
Former Aberdeen and Sioux Falls
player and coach Doug Smith recalls that senior title
for Tom. Aberdeen Central swept most other flights, but
Tommy “owned #1 singles flight.” Doug recalls an Argus
Leader photo featuring Tommy, plus the Aberdeen players,
with Senator George McGovern.
“The story line went something
like this: ‘the only one who could stop Tommy Clayton’s
march to the state title was McGovern.’ The backstory
was that rain forced the tourney indoors to Westward Ho
Racquet club for the finish, but McGovern was in the
midst of a private lesson with pro Dave Weber. Dave kept
everyone out until the lesson was finished because he
didn’t want the Senator to feel ‘uncomfortable’ by
having all these fine young players (all of whom, of
course, would have been able to beat the socks off
George) looking on as he hit with Dave.”
Tom says his tennis memories are
so broad that he even credits himself to helping veteran
legends Wendell Ottum, Steve Wilkinson and others win
matches in the 1960’s. “During the SD Opens in Sioux
Falls, my mother would basically offer our house as a
tournaments headquarters, players would load up on
baloney sandwiches, shower and change in our house. I
loaned them my comic books, which helped them relax in
the shade before a big match,” smiles Tom.
Tom gave tennis a brief shot at
Northwestern University in Chicago, where he attended
for 2 ½ years before becoming self-employed as a trader
on the Chicago Board of Options (1976-1988). He returned
to school in 1989, graduating magna cum laude from Ft.
Lewis College in Durango, CO. Then, he went to law
school at the University of South Dakota (also serving
as chief editor of the USD Law Review.)
Today he has a solo practice in
Sioux Falls, working primarily in areas of
employment/discrimination law, securities law, business
initiatives and federal criminal defense. Tom has three
children: Sarah (18), Laurie (17) and Ryan (12).
Highlighting his junior summer
tennis was playing at the USTA National Juniors boys
tournament in Kalamazoo, MI in the boys 16’s (seeing
Vitas Gerulaitis in the draw), and playing in the St.
Louis Jr. Regional Tournament.
Looking back on that sophomore
year at Washington and his first chance to play prep
tennis on a team, Tom said what a joy it was when Coach
Grebin teamed him in doubles with all around athlete
Dave Dummermuth, a senior.
Dummermuth said part of their fun
together was their matched competitiveness. “Tom was
such a talented, experienced player, that I basically
served, returned and tried to stay out of his way, and
it seemed to make for a winning combination,” said Dave.
A highlight that year was a win for Tom and Dave over
Billy Clayton – Randy Kochenderfer in a dual match
between Washington High and Lincoln. Billy and Randy
avenged that loss by winning the state doubles over Tom
and Dave, 10-6.