If you are from East Texas and picked up a tennis racquet sometime in your life, you more than likely have met Robert Rhodes.
Rhodes is the friendly gentleman who greets you at the tournament headquarters and calmly answers questions and offers encouragement to all the tennis players, their families and coaches.
He has done so since the early 1980s. He actually retired from his posts overseeing the adult and junior tennis events in East Texas in the fall, but he was urged to serve as tournament director for this week’s NJCAA Women’s National Tennis Tournament at Tyler Junior College.
It is the fourth time he has served in that capacity.
It didn’t take a lot coaxing as Rhodes has had a lifelong love affair with tennis.
“I grew up in Van, which had a strong tennis program for a small-town school, and still does,” Rhodes said. “There were summer tennis programs with quality instruction. I believe I started playing in about the fifth grade. Ron Tankersley and I almost won two high school state championships in doubles.”
That love of the game was also embraced by his family.
He and his wife Diane have three daughters — Ronna Morrison of Tyler, Renna Embry of Tyler and Reesa Miller of Austin. All were championship junior tennis players and were instrumental in the Robert E. Lee High School team tennis success.
They also have seven grandchildren — Meg Morrison of Tyler; Mason, Dylan, and Ella Rose Embry of Tyler; and Maya, Miles and Audrey Miller of Austin.
When away from the tennis courts, Rhodes, a Van High School and University of Texas at Austin graduate, worked in human resources for GE, Trane and American Standard in Tyler a total of 43 years, retiring in 2008.
But his side job was directing some of the top tournaments in the area.
“I was asked in 1984 to be tournament director of the East Texas Open,” he recalled. “It was intended to be a one-year assignment, but I wound up directing U.S. Tennis Association (USTA) junior and adult tournaments headquartered at Tyler Tennis and Swim for the next 28 years. About 200 tournaments later, I finally called it quits after our junior qualifying tournament last November.”
“I never was that competitive as a junior player, but I loved meeting new friends from other communities through tennis,” Rhodes said. “Years later, all of my daughters participated in high school and USTA tournaments; and two competed at the collegiate level. I loved watching them play, sharing their exhilaration when they won and their disappointments when they lost. Those were vicarious moments for me, and I still treasure them.”
After retiring from his job, Rhodes wanted to stay busy.
“I was asked to serve on the board of directors of the Texas Wounded Warrior Foundation here in Tyler about two years ago,” he said. “It’s been a remarkably rewarding experience for me personally. With great support from the community, our board tries to provide much-needed help for U.S. military personnel who have been severely wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan. Most are amputees, and many have lost two or more limbs. So often, those who are hurting and their families don’t get their government benefits in a timely manner, and that’s when the Texas Wounded Warrior Foundation steps in. We also have an annual event for about 40 wounded warriors that includes a pro-am golf tournament and a weekend of R&R.”
Some of the top tennis players in the country will be in Tyler this week and Rhodes is looking forward to the competition.
“There hasn’t been a NJCAA national tournament here since 2001, if I remember correctly,” Rhodes said. “It will be a treat for the Tyler tennis community.”
Rhodes said fans can expect to see championship tennis.
“(Fans can expect) five days of quality collegiate tennis,” Rhodes said. “TJC has 16 championship courts for hosting this event, and 30 junior college Division I teams from around the country will bring some outstanding talent — not that different really from university level Division I players.”
For more information on the Texas Wounded Warrior Foundation call 903-918-2210 or visit their website http://txwoundedwarrior.com, email firstname.lastname@example.org or write to: Texas Wounded Warrior, 4301 Fillbrook Lane, Tyler, Texas 75707.