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10:24 PM Fri, Sept. 21st

Tennis Column: More than just a sport: Braden on Braden ... at 82

Unassuming, humble, funny, keen and articulate - very on the ball, with a full life of continuing work in many more avenues than "just" the game of tennis, Vic Braden has done it once again in writing about his life with the book, "If I'm Only 22, How Come I'm 82?"

And the subtitle, "Tennis Is More Than Just a Sport," was written with much meaning from and about this special man.

The 12 year-old youngster from Monroe, Michigan, who was caught stealing tennis balls, had his life changed when the recreation director, Mr. Lawrence Alto, gave him a choice: "You can go to jail or learn to play tennis." Vic later said, "That was a no-brainer for me."

And now look at the life that decision created - 70 years later.

He went on to become a pro tennis player, coach, photographer, videographer, researcher, television announcer, school teacher, clinician, psychologist and author - a living tennis legend.

This toothy-smiling 5'6" kid who played baseball, basketball, football and tennis growing up, in high school was the starting quarterback on the football team and co-captain of the basketball team and also managed to win the Michigan State High School tennis championships the 3 years it was played during the war.

In 1947 Braden was given a tennis scholarship to Kalamazoo College where their tennis team went undefeated in league play all four years. He tried to sign up for the Air Force, but was ruled a 4-F from some heart defect. Vic graduated in the spring of 1951, the first college graduate in his family, but not the last.

After graduation he married and took a job at the Toledo Tennis Club (two years) during the summer months and the University of Toledo coaching tennis and assistant coach for their basketball team.

His mother-in-law invited them to spend the following winter months in Southern California and Vic ended up at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel as an assistant pro to Frank Feltrop, who hosted many Hollywood tennis-playing movie stars. Gussie Moran, Lana Turner, Debbie Reynolds as well as top pro's in the game like Pancho Segura, Pancho Gonzales and Jack Kramer (who soon became one of his best friends) were in the Braden circle, to mention but a few of the well-known he taught and hit with.

Most people don't know that Braden turned pro in 1952 and played professional tournaments until he retired in 1955.

In 1955 Braden moved back to California to teach elementary school (sixth grade) for three years and around that, he also finished graduate school, obtaining his master's degree in educational psychology.

Then, once again tennis called. Jack Kramer asked him to join his administrative staff to help run the worldwide professional tennis tour, and it was a chance he couldn't pass up. He was involved with the tennis world and the top players in the game on a daily basis.

Gonzales, Sedgman, Rosewall, Trabert, Segura, Rose, Cooper, Anderson and Jack Kramer.

As the Kramer Tour ended, Vic prompted Jack to build a club baring his famous name, thus the Jack Kramer Tennis Club was born and Braden was its tennis director.

In 1971/72 Vic left the Kramer Club to open the first Vic Braden Tennis College at the Rancho Bernardo Inn and by 1974 his lifetime dream came true with the completion of the Vic Braden Tennis College in Coto de Caza, California. He was now the coach for the masses and played a major part in the "tennis boom."

Vic's tennis book/bible, "Tennis for the Future," came out in 1977 and was one of the best-selling instructional tennis books of all time.

From that point on, Braden seemed to be everywhere in the world of tennis and the only way to really capture the essence of how capable he was and continues to be is to read all 115 pages of his latest biography. It's not only his life, but a history of tennis from the 1940s to the present.

On one of his last pages Vic says, "Sometimes I think about what I will be doing the next thirty or forty years, and then it hits me that I should be thinking about the next thirty or forty days."

He ends with, "As you can see, "Tennis Is More Than Just a Sport."

If you want a great read, contact Vic Braden at vicbraden@vicbraden.com and buy his book.

Chris Howard is a local USPTA tennis professional with more than 35 years in the racquet and fitness industry. He can be reached at 928-642-6775 or choward4541@q.com.