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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Chicken Tennis? Why you ask.. because Jerry Gassel turns 80 this month!





Chicken Tennis ...the tennis version of Beer Pong? A few weeks ago Scott's doubles partner from his teenage years, Dan Gassel, contacted him and asked him to write a letter for his fathers 80th birthday.   He also asked him to sign the letter "The Chicken Plucker"    A smile came to Scott's face thinking of those fun times in North County playing tennis and earning the nickname from Jerry because he worked in the kitchen at Kentucky Fried Chicken along with a few other tennis players.    Of course those memories are intertwined with tennis and north county so we said why not a blog to celebrate the 80th Birthday of Mr. Gassel!   Many of the places we played tennis are now gone including LarMor Swim Club, West James Courts(Where Scott and Dan took lessons), the former Bellefontaine Swim and Tennis Club and the courts at Pruett Park which are no longer playable.

However one court came to mind as the right place to play this match.   The Riverview Gardens High School Courts because they sat literally across the street from 1211 Shepley the home of the Gassel Family where Jerry and Carol  raised two wonderful daughters and Scott's doubles partner Dan.

As we arrived at the courts we could see they were in bad shape however one thing had improved.  The courts had real nets.   Back in Scott's day the nets were made of chain link fence.   Many a competitive tennis match was played on these courts back in the day.  Scott played many a match here against his high school nemesis Ken Eckert a proud Riverview Ram.  Today the courts look little used.  Scott brought Chris Gassel (no known relation to Jerry) with him.  Chris is the behind the scenes compiler of this blog.    Stan as usual was busy selling homes for Remax Select which means he was slightly late so we had a few minutes to warm up.   Chris is a beginner and has been taking  tennis lessons from Mark Platt so we hit a few balls until the Riverview Gardens Security Guard showed up and informed us we could not play tennis during school hours.

We called Stan and met him at Bella Fontaine Park adjacent to the Bellefontaine Neighbors Recreation Center where they have two courts.   They used to have four but two have been converted to basketball.   We opened a can of balls from our new sponsor The X-Ball and got ready to play.  In order to celebrate Jerry's 80th we put the special "Chicken Plucker" rules in effect.   For the first set we put two cans four feet from the net on each side in the drop shot zone.   If either player hit the can he automatically wins the game and forces the other player to eat one piece of KFC from the bucket we acquired from Scott's old workplace.    Scott won the toss and served and earned a game point.

Stan lobbed over Scott's head and Scott ran back spun around and hit an inside out forehand passing shot to win the game.  He then broke stan and held for a 3-0 lead.   Although several attempts were made to hit the can it proved to be very difficult.   You also now had the added responsiblity if you were at net to defend the can which Stan did successfully using his Bulgarian goalie skills!  As usual Scott could not count Stan out and he fought back to 4-5 with Scott serving with a set point.  On set point both players went for the can and ended up at the net where Stan hit a fantastic lob volley over Scott's head to save set point.   He continued on to break and even the set at 5-5.   Scott was able to break and hold to close out the set 7-5.


We changed the rules for the second set putting four cans on the service sidelines.   Stan fought hard to start and broke Scott on a great short angle backhand which missed the can but was devastating nevertheless.    At 3-2 Stan served and held at love for a 4-2 lead.   Scott served and Stan won three more points in a row forcing triple break point.   Things were not looking good for Scott.   Then lightning struck...

Scotts first serve smashed into the can automatically winning the game and sending Stan to the KFC bucket.  Now 4-3 Stan managed to survive the chicken and close out the set at 6-3.   However the game was now changed as we both knew the cans were now a factor.

We decided to play a USTA 10 point tiebreaker to decide the match.   The tiebreaker rule was hit the can automatically win the tiebreaker.  Both players were now going for the cans on every shot knowing that a can hit was an automatic match win.


Of course there were a few errors and Stan was the steadier and went out to a 7-2 lead.   Scott fought back hard.   Both players were all over the cans but nobody could hit the mark.   At 9-8 Stan had the first match point.

He came to the net on Scott's backhand and Scott somehow floated a slice passing shot down the line past Stan to even it at 9-9.   Back and forth it went with each player having multiple match points.  Finally at 15-14 Scott served for the match.   His serve nearly missed the can but was in Stan went for the can on Scott's backhand side and Scott went backhand crosscourt for the can.  Stan approached the net and Scott finished the match with a forehand down the line pass!  16-14 tiebreak win.   After four straight losses to Stan the Chicken Plucker rides again 7-5, 3-6, 1-0!

The courts are in need of work.  They were missing netstraps, nets were coming apart and most importantly the surfacing is cracked and uneven and retains water.   Water was constantly pushing out of the court and some sections were uneven and could create bad bounces or more importantly trip hazards.   The rest of the facility is in great shape.   Our rating on condition is a 5 and location is a 7 for a combined rating of 6.   The location next to the Police and Fire Station can cause some noise issues.   A nearby attraction is the General Daniel Bissell House and a great place to eat is Central Realty favorite The White Barn.


Happy 80th Birthday Jerry Gassel!  This Blog's for you!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Martins Take + Big Things Coming

Big things are brewing over here at STL Forgotten Courts and we are going to share them with you shortly!  But first, we want to take the time share another blog that relates to one of our older posts about Mr. Richard Hudlin.  Please check out Martin's Take below and hit the link to go to his blog.

http://martinstake128.wordpress.com/2012/03/06/long-overdue-this-is-for-you-mr-richard-hudlin/


Long Overdue, This Is For You… Mr. Richard Hudlin



3 Votes

Richard A. Hudlin was a man of quiet but significant accomplishment. Mr. Hudlin or, “Hud,” as we who knew and worked with him affectionately called him, was a great man. That’s indisputable.
What is troublesome to me is the relative obscurity to which Mr. Hudlin’s legacy has been relegated. The stark lack of accessible information about the profound positive impact he had on the tennis community of St. Louis is reprehensible.
I share the blame because I knew him well. While he was living I could have, and immediately following his death I should have, documented the many selfless things that he did in the interest of fostering tennis for those of lesser means.
This post is my apology and personal tribute to the man who never received the recognition that he so richly deserved.
Arthur Ashe won the Wimbledon singles title in 1975. A year later during a visit to St. Louis, I snapped this photo of a proud Richard Hudlin (seated on the lower right), and his star pupil, Arthur Ashe (seated on the desk).
My association with Mr. Hudlin began in 1974. I first met him at Fairgrounds Park in north St. Louis. He was conducting a tennis clinic of sorts with a ragtag assemblage of kids. Half of the gaggle didn’t even have tennis rackets. That didn’t matter to “Hud” because one day they would have rackets even if he had to provide them.
I was hitting against the board while alternately watching with fascination as Mr. Hudlin effortlessly shuttled back and forth between the two courts he was using. He provided instruction for those with rackets while utilizing those without to chase and retrieve balls.
After fifteen minutes the positions were reversed. Those with rackets happily handed over the instruments to those without and dutifully began shagging balls. The former retrievers now got instruction. There wasn’t a disgruntled kid amongst the lot. I remember thinking, “What a great system.”
The whole affair ended in about forty minutes. A few last words were dispensed to the group and away they dashed. One little boy stayed behind to help Mr. Hudlin gather up balls and deposit them into two A & P grocery shopping bags.
I watched as Hud lugged the two bags to his car parked on Natural Bridge about forty yards away. He had a little green Volkswagen Karmann Ghia. After storing the bags he returned to the courts and walked straight to me.
Without introduction he asked quizzically, “Whats that thing in your hand?” Because I thought it was obvious, I replied in a somewhat confused fashion, “A tennis racket?” “Well what are you trying to do with it?” Bewildered I answered, “Practice?” “Oh, I see. From the looks of things you aren’t getting in much practice.”
His smile told me he was egging me on. So when he asked, “Well why are most of your balls flying over the fence?” I replied, “because the fence isn’t high enough.” That got him. He doubled over in laughter.
Mr. Hudlin then proceeded to give me a three minute crash course in how to hit a tennis ball properly. That was the only instruction he ever gave me regarding my own tennis. He then turned abruptly and began walking away.
“Thanks,” I called after him. Seemingly as an afterthought, he turned and said, “I’m Richard Hudlin.” “Thanks again Mr. Hudlin, I’m Martin Rogers.” “I know,” he said. “You’re Fred’s son.” And with that he was gone leaving me perplexed as to how he knew me.
Though St. Louis is a reasonably large city, within the black community, it often seems small because everyone seems to either know you or at least know someone who knows someone else who somehow knows you. I later learned that my father and Richard were longstanding acquaintances. That’s how he knew me.
Over the next few weeks I saw Richard with greater frequency. As always he was working with kids. During a couple of my practice debacles, after having knocked all my balls over the fence, Richard called me down to do something useful-toss balls to his kids.
To the best of my knowledge, at that time, Mr. Hudlin was donating his services. I never saw parents paying him for the time he spent working with their children.
It didn’t take long for me to learn that Mr. Hudlin had connections to Althea Gibson, the first African American woman to compete on the world tennis tour and win a Grand Slam tournament. He also coached the great Arthur Ashe during the time Arthur spent in St. Louis honing his skills at the Armory tennis courts and completing his senior year at Sumner High School.
Under Hud’s tutelage, within the confines of the Armory, on the slick, lightening-fast wood surface, Arthur was transformed from a back-court player into a serve-volley specialist. It was Richard Hudlin genius.
Mr. Hudlin was a champion of Civil Rights as well. Against stiff resistance towards blacks gaining inroads into the sport, Mr. Hudlin filed and won a lawsuit to gain access for his Tandy Park Muny tennis players to city-wide Muny Parks to which they had been vigorously excluded. It was an unprecedented victory.
Richard Hudlin died in 1976, one year after Arthur won Wimbledon, the oldest and most prestigious tournament in tennis. He lived just long enough to see Arthur become a champion both on and off the tennis court.
Richard A. Hudlin was a champion as well as a maker of champions. He was also a teacher, leader, mentor, supporter, donator and defender.
Thanks Hud, for the three priceless minutes you donated to my forehand. I’m still working on it and am happy to report that far fewer of my balls are sailing over the fence now.
I pay sincere homage to Mr. Richard Hudlin. By any measure he was a great man.