Updated: Nov 8, 2021
Since it was established four decades ago, the Texas Tennis Museum and Hall of Fame has helped transform the public's understanding of the history and impact of Texas tennis.
It all began in 1978, when Waco publisher and tennis coach, Charlie McCleary, approached then Texas Tennis Association (USTA Texas) Executive Director, Ben Ball, with an idea—a Texas Tennis Museum and Hall of Fame. McCleary dove deeper into discussions the following year with the Texas Tennis Association President, Ed Chew.
After receiving the nod from Chew, McCleary and his wife, Emadale, embarked on a 14-week cross-country trip to various sports halls of fame. They immersed themselves in the study of memorabilia and displays as they visited well-established halls, including the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton Ohio. Convinced that Texas tennis deserved the same type of recognition, the McClearys returned home, ready to solicit additional support.
Having written professionally for the Waco Tribune Herald, the Dallas Morning News and several of his own magazines, Charlie was no stranger to a typewriter. Upon returning from his trip, he sat down with his faithful machine and began typing out letters to individuals and organizations across the Lone Star State. It didn't take long for two key organizations to offer their support. "Two groups made it possible to get the museum and hall of fame going," recalled McCleary in the early 1980s. "The City of Waco bought the building we are in now and gave us a lease at virtually no cost and the [Texas Tennis Association] added a grant of $15,000 with which to help set it up."
McCleary's vision was starting to take hold, however, there were still many expenses standing between him and his dream. Having successfully opened a lawn tennis club during the Great Depression and serving in World War II, McCleary knew the meaning of resilience and persuasion. He pleaded his case before the people of Waco and obtained $20,000 worth of free services from electricians, painters and carpenters.
Former TTA President, Yvonne Garton, McCleary and Waco Mayor Bill Davis at opening of the TTMHOF in 1981
Through the efforts of many individuals and organizations, McCleary's vision became a reality. The dedication of the Texas Tennis Museum and the induction of the first Hall of Fame class took place on Friday, July 3, 1981. The program was conducted in the auditorium of the Sul Ross Senior Citizens Center. Clarence Mabry served as Master of Ceremonies. Tut Bartzen announced the inaugural Hall of Fame class, which included "Pioneers and Builders" J.B. Adoue, Jr, Dr. Daniel A. Penick, W. T. Caswell, and "Famous Players" Wilmer Allison, Lewis White and Bruce Barnes. After the program, a ribbon cutting took place across Jefferson Street, in front of a small house, half of which was now home to the Texas Tennis Museum and Hall of Fame. The Waco Tennis Association and the Lakewood Tennis Club hosted a dinner for guests of the dedication.
Governor Bill Clements signs proclamation
In honor of the occasion, Governor Bill Clements signed a proclamation making July 1-5, 1981 "Tennis Week in Texas."
McCleary's Texas Tennis Museum and Hall of Fame was just starting to take root when the City of Waco decided that many other sports deserved recognition in their city. They soon asked the Tennis Museum to include the Paul Tyson Football Memorial, the Texas High School Basketball Hall of Fame and the Texas High School Football Hall of Fame in their building. The joint halls became known as the Texas Sports Hall of Champions. In order to properly accommodate these and additional attractions, the City proposed a new and adequate building on I-35 where it would help to pull tourists into town.
Just as plans for the move were being finalized, the Texas Sports Hall of Fame in Grand Prairie, which had opened in 1951, closed. Local parties involved realized that its inclusion in the new quarters could turn the new Museum setup into one of the top Sports Museums in the nation.
Original tennis space in Sports Hall of Fame Complex
The City of Waco agreed to help fund the construction of a new building. Baylor University arranged to swap some land with the city to enable the building to be built near the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame, the Brazos Queen, the Texas State Little League Complex, the future Strecker Museum, and Baylor University, all in the heart of Waco's tourist and historical district along the Brazos river. The new multi-million dollar Texas Sports Hall of Fame celebrated its grand opening in Waco on April 16, 1993.
In the ensuing years, the Tennis Museum not only upgraded its physical footprint and collections, but its educational, public programming and exhibit offerings. The tennis space underwent a complete redesign and renovation in 2015, allowing visitors to experience a more engaging historical journey and leave with a deeper understanding of the events and people involved in shaping Texas tennis.
The Texas Tennis Hall of Fame annually inducts men and women who as players, coaches and contributors have achieved distinction in tennis or have otherwise contributed to the growth, development or administration of the game. With the induction of the 2020 Class last year, the Hall of Fame reached 150 members.
The current Hall of Fame Gallery at the TTMHOF
Today, the Texas Tennis Museum and Hall of Fame continues to thrive thanks to loyal supporters, including USTA Texas (formerly Texas Tennis Association), and the work of many volunteers. In honor of the 40th Anniversary on July 3, the Museum is opening its doors to visitors with free admission. They will host a 40 Year Anniversary celebration in November, in conjunction with their Annual Banquet.