Longtime tennis 'servers' immortalized at Tulsa's LaFortune Park courts
BY ZAK PATTERSON World Sports Writer
Monday, October 15, 2012
10/15/12 at 5:42 AM
Frank Ward and Charlie Cunningham have been immortalized at LaFortune Park Tennis Center, after more than 50 combined years of service to the Tulsa tennis community.
Two tennis ball sculptures, along with plaques, were dedicated to the pair in front of court four and five Sunday afternoon after a brief ceremony in front of a few hundred people. Court four was dedicated to Cunningham and his wife Nancy, and court five to Ward.
"I was near tears," Ward said. "I had to stop and take a big breath as I saw all these great people. You've got to understand that for nearly 35 years, they were the motivation for me to come out here. Charlie and I wanted to do the best here in Tulsa for all those people, and not just Tulsa, all around the state and out of state."
Ward, known as "Mr. Tennis," is recognizable to just about anyone who has been around LaFortune. He gave 35 years directing every tennis tournament that came through LaFortune starting in 1967. Ward also served as the Holland Hall tennis coach for 25 years and in 1997 was inducted into the USTA Missouri Valley Hall of Fame.
Currently, as executive director of the Tulsa Area Tennis organization, Ward is still active in the tennis community, providing equipment and tennis camp scholarships to underserved youth.
Cunningham worked alongside Ward, running tennis operations with his wife starting in 1970 and ending in 1993. Cunningham started the first tennis leagues in Tulsa and was inducted into the USTA Missouri Valley Hall of Fame in 1999.
"Charlie was such an inspiration to all of us," said former U.S. District Judge Layn R. Phillips, who learned tennis from Cunningham. "He taught with dignity, and we shouldn't forget about Nancy. She was the straw that stirred the drink here while Charlie was teaching," Phillips said.
The first tournament Ward directed was the Tulsa World Open in 1967, which was the only tournament in Tulsa at the time. That quickly changed through the drive and supervision of Ward and Cunningham.
"For years, Charlie and I communicated daily on creating more tournaments in Tulsa. All there used to be was the Tulsa World in June. Between the two of us, at our height, we had a tournament every two weeks. It meant that the people of Tulsa didn't have to travel," said Ward.
Ward was known for his lack of tolerance for misbehavior on the court.
"When you think of Frank Ward, you think of fairness, integrity, sportsmanship, and enthusiasm," said U.S. Magistrate Judge T. Lane Wilson, who played in his first tournament at LaFortune. "There are a lot of people that are fond of this place, and they wouldn't be so fond of it without him."
Both men have given incalculable time to the Tulsa tennis community, and are excited about the improvements being made to LaFortune Park Tennis Center in order to meet Tulsa's passion for tennis.
"It's awesome but the changes that have been made so far are the first two steps. We still need to accomplish the next step which is a new building for David (McCorkle, tournament director), and Melissa (McCorkle, director of tennis operations), and her staff. The one that's there now is totally insufficient. For the public, we need these three indoor courts so, in the winter time, Tulsa has public indoor courts. That's what the need is now," said Ward.
LaFortune has about $700,000 to raise until they can start constructing the indoor facility, which will give LaFortune Park Tennis Center its first public indoor courts and year-round tennis to Tulsa.
Original Print Headline: Tennis 'servers' immortalized at park
Charlie and Nancy Cunningham look over a tennis ball sculpture during a dedication ceremony at the LaFortune Tennis Center in Tulsa on Sunday. MATT BARNARD / Tulsa World
Frank Ward, a longtime fixture in Tulsa's tennis community, talks to supporters during a dedication ceremony at the LaFortune Tennis Center on Sunday. MATT BARNARD / Tulsa World