"Tennis has given me so much, and to be able to give something back is really important." - Comments from Peachy Kellmeyer (Teleconference Transcript)
"Tennis has given me so much, and to be able to give something back is really important. And in my wildest dreams, I never, ever thought I would be among this elite group. I'll spend the rest of my life trying my very best to do what I can do to make tennis just a little bit better than maybe it was yesterday. I'm just honored and humbled. For me, it just doesn't get any better."
An Interview With: PEACHY KELLMEYER, 2011 Inductee to the International Tennis Hall of Fame
On the call:
- Mark L. Stenning, CEO, International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum
- Tony Trabert, President, International Tennis Hall of Fame and 1970 Hall of Famer
MARK L. STENNING: Good afternoon, I'm here in snowy Newport and good morning to the folks Down Under, and others wherever you may be. We are very pleased to have the newest inductee of the tennis Hall of Fame with us this afternoon, Peachy Kellmeyer. Peachy is calling in bright and early from Melbourne, Australia.
Congrats, Peach, and on behalf of all of us here in Newport, we are more than thrilled to have you and your remarkable career now an indelible part of the Hall of Fame.
PEACHY KELLMEYER: Well, you and I have known each other since the 70s, and you know, I ever, ever dreamt this would happen, and so it's hard for me to even express how happy I am.
MARK L. STENNING: As Rick was mentioning the last couple of weeks, this is just the beginning of what is going to be a terrific ride in 2011, starting last night and with the introductions in July here in Newport. Before I turn it over for questions, give you a bit of background on Peachy, I would like to introduce one of my personal a guy in my personal Hall of Fame but also president of the International Tennis Hall of Fame and a 1970 tee Hall of Famer, Tony Trabert, who is at home in Ponte Vedra, Florida.
TONY TRABERT: Thank you. I would like to just explain a little of how it works, how someone ends up in the Hall of Fame. Anyone can be proposed for the Hall of Fame, be considered, and either write to us or go through the Internet, and send the person's name and obviously all of the information, why they think that this person should be in the Hall of Fame.
Then we have a committee that meets to discuss whether these people really are Hall of Fame material, and if we believe they are, then we go into it a book that we have a recent player category, we have a master player category, a contributor, category, and now a wheelchair category. And we meet at Wimbledon every day, the enshrining nominating committee of which I'm the chairman, there are 21 on the committee, an international group of very knowledgeable tennis people. And we discuss the players to be considered for that year's ballot, recent player category, master player, contributor and wheelchair. And we put them on the ballot, and then it goes out for a vote.
There is a media panel of about 130 voters, a master panel of about 100, and also on the contributor category. The votes have to be in by the 15th of December and those that get 75 percent of the ballots returned will be inducted in the Hall of Fame.
Mark, that's how it works.
MARK L. STENNING: Thank you very much. And Tony is certainly available for questions after we go through a few formalities here with Peachy.
As most of you know, we will be honoring the class of 2011 featuring Peachy and Andre Agassi who was announced at Agassi Prep in Las Vegas last Thursday, during a special weekend we have in Newport July 8, 9 and 10 with the actual introduction ceremony taking place on July 9.
I think it's important to note that Peachy is only the third female contributor to have been recognized by the Hall of Fame, and she joins two other, what would I call, pioneers in the game, Mary Ewing Outerbridge, who was inducted in 1981. Mary Outerbridge was the woman who brought the sport of tennis to the Americas. And also, Gladys Heldman, who along with Joe Coleman formed well, she was the publisher of World Tennis Magazine and form the Virginia Sun Circuit.
So Peachy is in a very elite group and part of the reason that women's tennis has flourished like it has.
Peachy was the first employee of the WTA in 1973, and she has played a critical role in the development of women's tennis, not only in North America but around the world. Over the years as you can imagine, she's led WTA operations, player, tournament relations. I remember many conversations Peachy and I would have related to the Virginia Slims in Newport back in the old days.
During Peachy's tenure, prize money on the WTA tour has increased from $300,000 in 1973 to more than $86 million in 2010. And the number of WTA Tour events has increased from 23 domestic tournaments to 53 events in 33 countries. So, truly internationalized the sport.
Today Peachy serves at WTA operations executive consultant and oversees the alumni program for the players and administrators, and she plays a pivotal role on the International Tennis Federation Fed Cup Committee.
From a player standpoint, Peachy became involved in the game as a talented junior player initially living in Wheeling and then Charleston, West Virginia. And then she went on to be a star collegiate athlete at the University of Miami which she was the first woman to play on a men's Division I team.
In addition to Peachy's many impacts on the tennis world, she's been a tireless fighter for women's right in sports in general and I really want to underscore that. But again, as far as her court record, she began winning junior titles as early as age 11. By age 15, she was competing at what it now known as the U.S. Open. And she was the youngest player at that time to be invited to this prestigious event.
As we discussed, she started Miami. As an adult she's been ranked nationally in both singles and doubles as well as a competitor of both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.
So, enough from me. Peach, welcome again, and can you just tell us a little bit and maybe talk to us a little bit about what introduction into the Tennis Hall of Fame means to you.
PEACHY KELLMEYER: Well, it's a moment in my lifetime. Let me see, I've been really my heart and soul has been with the WTA since 1973. I've spent my whole life playing tennis and working in the sport itself; I can't tell you what a great family this sport is. We all sort of help each other and it's been a real experience for me in my life.
Tennis has given me so much, and to be able to give something back is really important. And in my wildest dreams, I never, ever thought I would be among this elite group. So it means everything to me, and I just said, we had a get together last night down here in Melbourne, and I just said, I'll spend the rest of my life trying my very best to do what I can do to make tennis just a little bit better than maybe it was yesterday.
So it's a great sport to be involved in, and I've made so many friends around the world, and that means a lot to me. So I'm just every time I think about it, I have to make sure that this really happened. I'm just honored and humbled and I know I'm not the main event on this card coming in July. Agassi is just, you know, something else. But for me, it just doesn't get any better.
Q. So many firsts that you've established in your career; first woman on the men's tennis team in Miami, first employee in the WTA; what is your proudest moment, would you say?
PEACHY KELLMEYER: Well, first of all, I just think I was born at the right time. If you were born early enough when the sport was just starting, you had an opportunity for those things to happen. Proudest moment, I have to honestly say was when we finally got equal prize money at the Grand Slam. We all knew it was coming, and expected it. I think all of us actually when it happened, we were taken aback, because it just symbolizes what gender equality is all about. So that I think was the proudest moment. And the other moment that stands out in my lifetime was I sat on the court when Billie Jean played Bobby Riggs in the 'Battle of the Sexes,' and that was something else to see and to witness. So I think those two things were pretty top line for me.
Q. Where did you get the nickname "Peachy?"
PEACHY KELLMEYER: Well, you know, Ted Tinling always said to me, "Peachy, make up a story." There's no story with it. I guess if you have a name like Fern Lee, you have to come up with something. The only person in my life that has ever called me Fern is Bud Collins, the Hall of Famer. And he's probably known me now the longest of anybody in the sport, because he saw me play as a junior player. And he was here last night in Melbourne. But you know, there's no story to it. My parents just very early on called me Peachy.
Q. Are you in the Miami Hurricanes Athletic Hall of Fame?
PEACHY KELLMEYER: No. The only Hall of Fame I'm in is the Intercollegiate Tennis Hall of Fame in Williamsburg.
Q. Have you been to Newport before?
PEACHY KELLMEYER: I come every year, because I feel very strongly about the Hall of Fame and everybody associated with it. So I've been there I think almost every year to witness my friends and whoever is being inducted.
Q. Going in with Agassi so you were here when Stephanie went in for that emotional time. So it should be quite interesting this summer.
PEACHY KELLMEYER: Yeah, I hope so.
Q. Can you talk a little about your childhood growing up in Wheeling and where you went to school and what you remember about your early involvement with tennis here?
PEACHY KELLMEYER: Sure. Let's see, I was born in Wheeling and then when I was about four moved to Pittsburgh. And then when I was about six, moved to Charleston. So quite honest, my tennis in Wheeling was mainly at Ogilvy Park there, where you had lots of tournaments when I was growing up and played lots of tennis there and spent some I think it's one of the most beautiful parks I've ever been in. So I have great memories of that. Both my parents are from Wheeling, and I go back there quite often. Went to the racetrack. I don't know if it's still there, Wheeling downs or whatever it was.
Q. Yes, it is?
PEACHY KELLMEYER: And big Bill what's his name, who ran several things there in Wheeling, so I have a lot of relatives there.
Q. Did you ever participate in the West Virginia Open?
PEACHY KELLMEYER: Yes.
Q. What are your memories from that?
PEACHY KELLMEYER: Well, I remember pictures in the paper of the long and the short of it, because I won the women's when I was very young, and was playing against women who were much taller than I was. So they would always say the long and the short of it. Just it was you know, I love to be on the tennis court and I was more comfortable there than off the court.
You know, back then, we just played all day. You just got up in the morning and went to the tennis courts and got home in the evening and made dinner and went to bed and got back up the next day and played. And you couldn't have been happier.
I played in Pittsburgh, played in the finals and won the 15, 13 and 18 finals all in one day. Nowadays, our pros, in the WTA, we probably would not allow a player to play that much. But you just loved the sport, and it was West Virginia is a great, great state, and they love their tennis.
Q. Can you talk about when people call you a trailblazer of women's tennis, what does that mean to you?
PEACHY KELLMEYER: To be honest with you, I'm not a Billie Jean King type person who has vision and sets goals. I just really came into the sport and got involved and worked hard and just did my best and had a lot of support. I don't think I was really meant to trailblaze anything. Just whatever came up, I tried to deal with as best I could.
Q. Can you talk more about the equal prize money for men and women and how it's been achieved, and how do you respond to people that say women shouldn't get equal prize money because of the best of three, as opposed to best of five sets?
PEACHY KELLMEYER: To me, the sport is entertainment and whether you play for an hour and a half or five hours, I don't think that really makes a difference. If I had to look ahead, I think some day the men won't play best of five. It's hard to predict for TV and all how long they are going to be out there. So I don't think how long you play, when you go to see entertainment, whether they play for an hour, four hours, nobody I don't think wants to sit anymore for four hours and watch something. So I just and as far as equal prize money goes, to me, it is something now that is behind us. We expect this, and so all of the women fought very hard, and it means a great deal to all of those players and the fans.
So I think we made it. I think we are there.
Q. What are your thoughts on the state of women's tennis today and how does that compare to what you imagined as the first director of the WTA back in 1973?
PEACHY KELLMEYER: The state of women's tennis now is so healthy and good, and so many great players. Never dreamt it would be like this. You know, coming down here to Melbourne to see the crowds and the matches that are going on, it's outstanding. When I came here to Australia years ago, the facility was very small and now you drive by and you see four big buildings, indoor arenas, and it's phenomenal. The whole city here, the whole country, the whole region in this part of the world is focused now on tennis. And so it's outstanding.
Q. Like to get your thoughts and memories of playing tennis in Charleston.
PEACHY KELLMEYER: Well, I come back there, I try to get back there at least once a year. I really credit my brother, Freddie, so much, because growing up, he would say, make sure to tell them, he's three years older (indiscernible). I talked to him last night the deal there, I played years ago out of the river, by the Kanawha River, and then moved up in the hills there. And every time I go back, I drive around there because there's so much history there for me. And you had great tennis pros there. Karel Koželuh is a Hall of Famer, and his brother, Jan Koželuh coached me there at the Charleston tennis club. And so I just have really, really good memories, and can't wait to get back.
Q. How did tennis in Charleston shape you?
PEACHY KELLMEYER: It was great. When I was growing up, you had a great group of doctors who played tennis there. It's a little when you're a girl, and you start to beat men, sometimes they shy away and they are not very thrilled with you, but they would play with me every single day and help me, and never felt taken back; if maybe as I got better I started to beat them. Dr. David Gray is there and every time I go, I visit him in Charleston. So the men that played at the tennis club helped me because they really were not, you know, for me, if I didn't play with the boys and my brother and the men, I would never have gotten any better. And I'm very proud because the tennis court there is named after me.
Q. You've obviously seen so much in 40 years on the women's tour, what do you expect to see in the future or what do you hope to see in the professional tour in the future?
PEACHY KELLMEYER: Well, that's a good question. I would just like to see different parts of the world, where women don't have maybe equality. I'd like to see tennis help bring that. You read about some things, for instance, I was born with a club foot, and I just read the other day, if I had been born in some countries in Africa, I would have they would have killed me. So, I just like to see tennis, which I think is a great ambassador, would help bring equality for women and different parts of the world. I think it will do that, I really do. So to me, that's what I see tennis doing in the future, helping young girls to become better women.
MARK L. STENNING: Thank you for making even more time for the Hall of Fame. We look forward to seeing you. I'm sure we'll see you before. Plans are well underway for a fantastic weekend for and you Andre.
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