Recent articles about the girls’ tennis renaissance of the last five years or so hit at the core of one of our School’s great traditions and prompted some Alumni response.
Margaret Teague Armstrong ‘74 illuminated Bishop’s tennis past glories. In the early 1970’s Bishop’s was a girls’ tennis factory. Fresh from becoming a co-ed school in 1971, a tennis dynasty flourished under the sage guidance of legendary coach Alex Gordon. It is quite a story, because almost everyone involved became national tennis luminaries for which we have little documented memory.
In 1972, Margaret joined up with La Jolla High’s Robin Harris to play in the National 16U Tourney in Charleston, W.V. They were ranked second in the U.S. that year. Teamed with Robin again, she competed in the 18U National Grass Court Championships. Margaret did a lot of traveling in 1972 and 1973 as part of the National Junior Circuit. Another high point of this era was the chance for her to work at the famous John Gardiner Tennis Ranch in Carmel, Calif. There was a lot of glitz and glamour there as Hollywood luminaries abounded. Folks from all over the country came to hone their game on Gardiner’s courts, and to mingle and star gaze. It was sort of the center of gravity of the game.
But it was at the annual Ojai Tennis Tourney that the Bishop’s girls’ tennis players took to center court following the high victory trail. Bunny Bruning ‘74 and Sue Hagey Wall ‘76 won the 18U Doubles Championship in 1972. What followed that was another two years of Bishop’s dominance with Margaret and Sue teaming up to win in 1973. In 1974, Margaret got a repeat crown joined by partner Kerry Appleby Payne ‘74. It was a Bishop’s trifecta. Bunny also won the 18U girls’ singles title that year.
Sue also won the Women’s Open Invitational doubles in 1974 with partner Lea Antonoplis. Following the doubles win, she went on to the Women’s Open Invitational singles, where she stepped up big and placed second against the top professionals in the game. This is a singles competition in which the level of talent included Billie Jean King, Tracey Austin and Rosemary Casals, all of whom their early marks at Ojai. For some additional perspective, in the doubles win, Sue’s partner Lea was not a Bishop’s grad, but did become an All-American at USC and win the Junior Girls’ Singles title at Wimbledon.
As for Ojai, this was all-tournament style play, not school versus school. Each victory was against the best Southern California had to offer. Janet Newberry Wright ’71 notably took first in the Women’s Open Invitational in 1970.
In addition to these individual and doubles accomplishments, Bishop’s girls’ squad also won the Ojai Team Championship in 1966, 1967 and 1973. In doing so, they won the John Van B. Griggs Memorial Challenge Trophy. The 1973 team was the last to win this cup as the team championship matches discontinued after that year. In the 1960’s and 1970’s, Bishop’s was truly a tennis powerhouse.
Bunny Bruning would go on to a full career, which is still in process, in the tennis world. She competed from 1974-1983 in the Women’s Tennis Association, which was founded by Billie Jean King in 1973. Her highest national ranking in singles was No. 41 and in doubles, No. 11. She found her way into the business of tennis by becoming the tennis director at the Wakonda Club in Des Moines, Iowa, where she has been for 35 years. She has earned the distinction of Master Professional and serves on the USPTA national board as a vice president. Bunny has also been inducted into the Missouri Valley Hall of Fame and the San Diego Hall of Champions.
Sue Hagey Wall was an all-around six-sport athlete (basketball, volleyball, field hockey, softball, soccer) including tennis, which was always her favored sport. She went on to become a four-time All-American at Stanford. In 1975 and 1976, she and partner Diane Morrison were AIAW National Doubles Champions. Grander than that, in 1974, she and her partner, Raul Ramirez advanced to the mixed doubles quarter finals at Wimbledon. She got to play on Wimbledon’s center court where she confessed that, “I was so nervous I couldn’t talk.” They ultimately lost to Billie Jean King and Owen Davidson but earned a berth to the round of fours by defeating Martina Navratilova and Jan Kodes! She was a Junior Singles Wimbledon quarterfinalist in 1975, and she qualified for singles again in 1977. During this time, she also played in several NCAA tournaments. Sue also went on to play on the professional circuit.
Margaret Teague Armstrong went on to the University of Redlands and then to Drake University in Des Moines. She put her competitive racket down when she headed to Drake to take on politics, working for the State of Iowa and eventually becoming a graduate assistant. She attended University of San Diego Law School and became an attorney admitted to the California Bar in 1983 and practiced law in California. She is now retired in Des Moines, Iowa.
No story about Bishop’s tennis would be complete without mentioning the five amazing Gengler sisters, Marjory ’69, Louise ’71, Nancy ’74, Jeanne ’76 and Marion ’80, all of whom hit the courts for the Knights over a 14-year time span. All five were honored with the 2016 Ellen Browning Scripps Distinguished Alumni Award. It would take another entire article to cover their remarkable tennis, squash, coaching and academic accomplishments. The first and oldest of the sisters Marjory would go on to an illustrious tennis career at Princeton. She was part of the first four-year co-ed class there. She never lost a set in her four years of competition and was selected as Princeton’s Best Athlete in 1973. She eventually married U.S. Open and Wimbledon Champion tennis professional Stan Smith. Yes, the guy THE SHOE is named for! The story of the five sisters is beautifully told in a marvelous two-part video tribute to the quintet made when they received the Distinguished Alumni Award, available here.
The story of girls’ tennis success during this era and others includes numerous other players, a few of whom TLR will list with their victories at Ojai. Suffice it to say, the string of victories goes back as far as 1917 and 1918, when Marion Williams won the girls’ 18U singles tourney. Champions at Ojai not previously noted have included:
Leigh Hay ’54 - 1951
Janet Newberry ’71 - 1967
Cari Hagey - 1979
18 U Singles Champions
Patti Hogan ’67 - 1967
Janet Newberry ’71 - 1969
Bunny Bruning ‘74 - 1974
16U Doubles Champions
Ruby Shamsky ’74 – Keri Appleby ’74 - 1972
18 U Doubles Champions
Betsy Brigham ’54 – Judy Howe - 1951
Patti Hogan ’67 – Vickie Rogers ’67 - 1966
Marjory Gengler ’69 – Janet Newberry ’71 - 1968
Marion Gengler ’80 – Jackie Geller ’80 - 1979
Cari Hagey – Courtney Crockett ’84 - 1983
The end piece to this story is about the remarkable coach. A fine player in his own right, Coach Alex Gordon played at UCLA and was captain of his team. He was the head professional at the Hotel Del Coronado, who somehow made his way to Bishop’s to be the girls’ tennis coach in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. TLR was not able to determine his exact tenure, but he was a key figure in the development of the early 70’s dynasty. While the Knights’ coach, he became the president of the United States Professional Tennis Players Association (USPTA) national Board of Directors. He was the USPTA “over-45” national doubles champion along with fellow Hotel Del pro Ben Press in 1969, 1971 and 1972. He led the organization in tumultuous times and was widely recognized for his wise leadership. He passed away in 1976.
He was the type of coach who guided the girls in matters of tennis and life. In 2007, he was inducted into the USPTA Hall of Fame for keeping the association together during a difficult time and for various other reasons. In fact, his impact was such that the annual award for the USPTA tennis professional of the year was named the Alex Gordon Professional of the Year Award.
In a further tribute to this fine man and coach, who was known as a gentle warrior, Margaret Teague Armstrong provided that Alex Gordon was a kind, excellent coach for whom playing tennis was about learning life skills both on and off the court. You can use the term "winning" in many ways, but friendship, having fun, learning life skills were instilled in positive ways to the Class of 1974.”
Ah, what halcyon days they must have been!