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Alan "Mr. Paddle" Graham Inducted into Hall of Fame
MARCH 17, 2010
Alan Graham probably thought he was going to spend the evening at another great CPTC League Finals Night; watching the men’s league play-off finals, having a burger and a beer, and socializing with his many paddle friends. He wouldn’t have thought it unusual that APTA President Tim McAvoy was in town, because Tim had a history of coordinating business trips with the annual Chicago party. He also knew that Bill Fiedler was going to make a presentation about the history of Chicago paddle, and that he'd single out Graham for recognition. What Graham didn't know was that he was about to be inducted into the Platform Tennis Hall of Fame, the sport’s highest honor.
Graham’s Hall of Fame induction was a tightly kept secret right up until it happened. It was planned as a surprise at what is undoubtedly the biggest paddle party of the year. At the end of the league season in Chicago, the entire league, including spouses and the women's league, are invited to Glen View Club to watch the finals of the top series of men players and to celebrate the year. That's an invitation list of well over 4,000. Hundreds of people attend. It was the perfect occasion for Graham's induction because the party was his invention.
In accepting the honor, Graham extended thanks to the many people who paved the way and who worked by his side through the years. He was humorous, modest and very much himself in front of the huge crowd of friends and fellow players. Alan Graham loves paddle and he loves to talk about the future of the sport as well as its past. When asked about this evening's honor, he quickly turned the conversation to the sport itself; what went into the growth of Chicago paddle and plans for how to manage and augment that growth in the future.
The platform tennis community thanks Alan Graham for his significant contributions to the sport.
Welcome to what I regard as the best night of the year in Chicago Platform Tennis. We’re going to interrupt the matches tonight for a special presentation.
Life goes fast and every once in a while it’s good to stop and recognize institutions and people who have truly made a difference. Now I don’t want to get too philosophical on a beer-drinking evening like this, but I do want to start by saying a few words about something that just about everyone here has benefited from, and that is the Chicago Men’s Platform Tennis League.
The league is so ubiquitous in our lives every winter that I think it’s easy to take it for granted, and lose sight of what an unusual and special thing it is we have here in Chicago. For years now, I’ve brought out of town friends to this League Finals night, and they always marvel at it, it’s size and scope, and particularly the great camaraderie that exists, which helps me to remember how lucky we are to have it.
One person embodies the spirit of this night and the league and has been largely responsible for the remarkable growth that it has enjoyed. He began serving as Chairman of the Chicago Platform Tennis Charities, 15 yrs ago, and along w/ this has served as the head of the Chicago Men’s League. Largely because of this, he’s often referred to as The Commissioner or Mr. Paddle here in Chicago. When he began this role in 1995, the league had 70 men’s teams with about 850 players. Under his leadership, those numbers have grown to nearly 200 men’s teams with almost 3000 players now. This is a phenomenal record of growth, particularly when you consider that many leagues around the country were experiencing a plateauing or even a drop in the number of players during this period. Because of this, the Chicago League is now far and away the largest of the APTA member leagues and remarkably, one-third of all APTA members now come from Chicago!
This individual also spearheaded 2 very important initiatives: the first of these was to follow up on an idea hatched during Jack Watson’s Administration and that was for the Chicago Platform Tennis Charities to earn 501c3 status. By gaining this tax-exempt status, he was able to substantially expand the number of sponsors for the 8 tournaments the CPTC runs annually. These, along w/ the 2006 Nationals (that this individual co-chaired) have raised almost $100,000 for the benefit of 12 local Charities since 2005.
The 2nd of these initiatives has been his belief that if the game is to grow more meaningfully, longer term, we must involve more public facilities. When he took the reins of the League in 1995, there was just one park district program and one athletic club of any substance in the league. By nurturing these young programs, and helping them arrange to add courts, today, there are 10 of these public facilities in the league. In many cases, these are made up of the newer Chicago area geographies for paddle, and represent the fastest growing areas for the game, laying the foundation for future growth.
Not only has this individual been a leading contributor to the growth & development of our game, but he has been a fine player on the court as well, as evidenced by the 3 Age Group National Championships he’s captured (although it is widely known that his partner Stu Opdycke carried him to all three). Maybe it’s this success that he’s had on the court that’s given him the confidence to dispense his unique brand of advice about everyone’s game. Whether it was at Meier’s Tavern in the 80’s and 90’s, or in the Glenview paddle hut this decade, many of us have “enjoyed” his extensive critiques of our games. And I do mean extensive…
Seriously though, no one I can think of has enjoyed the game more and at the same time, given more back to it. Over the past 15 years, Chicago has been the primary geographic growth engine for platform tennis and no one in my opinion, has had a bigger hand in driving this than this individual –through his efforts w/ the league, the many tournaments he’s run, and the many individuals he’s taught the game to. As a player, his keen competitive spirit has always been balanced by his jovial off-court nature. It’s a pleasure for me, on behalf of all the players, to recognize this individual, and thank him for the tremendous contribution he’s made to our sport over the past 40+ years.
Tim, I believe you have a few things to say…