Dakota Tennis Umpires, with leaders Darrell Gomarko and
The South Dakota Tennis Umpires
group, with past and current leadership from Gene Heller
and Darrell Gomarko, is being recognized with the 2006
SD Tennis Achievement Award. For Heller, Gomarko and
their recruited umpires, it is more than just making the
right call. Their leadership and efforts have brought
professionalism and decorum to tennis tournaments.
In 1958, a young man from
Philadelphia became interested in being a tennis umpire.
He was not formally trained, but he knew most of the
rules. Gene Heller had a passion for tennis and started
to umpire. He umpired at the Merion Cricket Club in
Haverford, PA whose grass court tournaments were
preludes to what became the US Open.
In 1985, Heller had moved to South
Dakota, and got the bug again to umpire. He was joined
by Jeff Nelson and Jane Johnson, who all became
certified as tennis umpires. The instructor, Bob “Rocky”
Rockwell, a past chief umpire for the US Open, came from
Minneapolis to Sioux Falls to give on-site certification
training. Rockwell also came back in 1987 to certify
eight locals: Heller, Lloyd Stivers, Rob Lanpher, Mary
Thompson, Dwight Seigenthaler, Mike Gardner, Shelly
Gardner, and Darrell Gomarko. With more officials now
available, Heller chaired the finals of the 1987 Men’s
Open Division of the South Dakota Adult Open. The newly
certified local officials called all lines.
Because there were so few
tournaments that used officials, only core groups
survived. This core group of Heller and Gomarko, with
the assistance of Stivers, and later Bob Williams, kept
South Dakota officiating alive. There were usually only
two or three officials to handle the South Dakota Open
tournaments. They would each take a set of courts in a
park and be there all day. Their only rest breaks came
on the final day when nearly all of the matches were at
McKennan Park. The first “chair” was built by Heller, a
five foot step ladder with a seat bolted to the top. “It
was pretty wobbly”, Heller remembers.
During this era, it was difficult
to get trainers to come to South Dakota each year, so
Heller became a trainer himself, and assumed the
responsibility of certifying South Dakota officials
until he retired from officiating in late 1999. In 1993,
he was recognized nationally by receiving the Nicolas E.
Powell Award, which was presented at the US Open. He
received the award for his outstanding work as a
sectional chair or line umpire contributor at the local
level. Heller is the only South Dakotan whose name is
found as an honoree in “Friend of Court” which contains
all of the USTA rules of tennis and is the handbook of
umpires across the nation.
In the spring of 1994, tennis
officiating was introduced at the high school tennis
tournaments and the group ultimately saw the need to
expand to meet additional requirements. Darrel Petersen
became certified in 1999 and the next year Rita Kane
followed. Bill Flynn, Sherwood Hatch and Jim Van Gerpen
joined the group in 2001.
Since that time, the number of
officials has continued to grow, with 17 being certified
in 2005. They include, in addition to Heller and Gomarko:
Jeff Bloomberg and John Forney of Pierre, Kayla Flynn
and Sherwood Hatch of Brookings, Jerry Johnson of
Madison, Vermillion’s Richard Rognstad and Bill Heaston
of Harrisburg. Officials from Sioux Falls include: Cindy
Huether, Bud Jones, Rita Kane, Jeff Nelson, Darrel
Petersen, Richard Schager, Nancy Zawada and Lloyd
Since Heller retired, Gomarko has
been the chief of officials for the Eastern South Dakota
group. In 2002, he was recognized by the Northern Tennis
Officials Association, who presented him their “Grass
Roots Official’s Award”, and he received their 2005
Exceptional Service Award. Under Gomarko’s leadership, a
stated goal of the Eastern South Dakota officials group
is to have every community with tennis activities
represented by at least one USTA certified official.
Brandon, Brookings, Harrisburg, Madison, Pierre, Sioux
Falls, and Vermillion are currently represented in the
ranks of officials.
Officials are now also being
certified in the Black Hills area as the state high
school tournaments have begun dividing their site
locations between Sioux Falls and Rapid City.