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May, 2015 - A Few Headlines

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AW Spotlight

An Interview with Dick Stockton, World-Class Tennis Pro, founder of Blue Sky Foundation

By Krista Martinelli

Dick Stockton, world class tennis player and founder of the Blue Sky Foundation.

Dick Stockton, world class tennis player and founder of the Blue Sky Foundation, hanging out at Brooklyn Water Bagels in Wellington.

As someone who played college tennis and continues to play USTA tennis, I remember Dick Stockton’s tennis career from my childhood years.  I remember his playing some of the other tennis greats of the 70’s, including Jimmy Connors and Bjorn Borg.  In fact, I had a poster of Bjorn Borg in my room. So I was excited to find that such an accomplished tennis pro as Dick Stockton lives in Wellington. Meanwhile, his wife, Liz,  teaches tennis over at the Wellington Community Center.

 

I asked him about his greatest moments as a tennis player. Being a team player at all times, Stockton points out that his two greatest highlights were not really for individual tennis, but as team triumphs.  In 1972, his TrinityUniversity tennis team at San Antonio, Texas won the NCAA Division I Men’s Team Championship – they were simply the best at that time.  Also, being able to play for the Davis Cup is a huge highlight for Stockton. He played in the Davis Cup for five years and traveled all over the world.

Legends

 

Another career highlight was winning the 1977 U.S. Pro Indoor Championship, beating Jimmy Connors in a five-set nationally televised final.  “Jimmy was #1 in the world at the time,” recalls Stockton. Also, at that time, the U.S. Pro Indoor was one of the top five or six most prestigious tournaments on the men’s tour.

 

Blue Sky Foundation

 

These days Stockton is still very involved in tennis, but is heading up his own non-profit organization, bringing tennis to our military troops.  In 2008, he and Liz formed the Blue Sky Foundation.  He had a different idea for it originally, something more along the lines of the Chris Evert Pro/Celebrity charity tennis tournament, but it never materialized. In 2012, Stockton was thinking of a way that he could thank our troops and came up with the idea of offering free tennis clinics at military bases.  Check out this personal message from Dick Stockton about how the Blue Sky Foundation was created (from their website) – http://www.mypalmbeachpost.com/videos/news/personal-journey-dick-stockton/vCJzCX/

 

In 2013, Stockton decided to do just two events during the year, as a test to see if this was a good idea. In July of 2013, they visited FortBragg, and 125 people signed up for the tennis clinics. They taught in categories of 4 to 10 years of age, 11 to 17 and 18 & over. Due to rain, they had to move the whole clinic inside a gym.  They were prepared though and had everything necessary to go on with the tennis clinic. They brought a team of fifteen instructors. Overall it was a huge success!  “The military troops and their kids were so appreciative of it,” says Stockton.

 

Later in October of 2013, they did another tennis clinic at Andrew Air Force Base in Maryland. Again about 125 showed up. This time Stockton had some other big tennis names along with him – Stan Smith and Gigi Fernandez. It was another successful day of tennis, and everyone seemed very appreciative. So after these couple of trial runs, Stockton decided to keep moving forward.

 

In 2014, they put on five events, which were “unbelievable experiences” according to Stockton. They had ages from 3 to 87 showing up for the tennis clinics.  This year, they have eight events planned.  They recently added a wounded warrior component to the program.  “By far this is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done,” says Stockton. “These people are so special and so appreciative. We’re there to thank them, but they’ve gone and done a 180 on us, being so thankful too.”

 

They’ve developed a “T3” logo, which stands for “Thanking our Troops through Tennis.” The biggest sponsor of the program so far is the USO. Also, Head has provided a lot of tennis rackets and Penn has contributed a lot of tennis balls. We are continuing to seek corporate sponsors, says Stockton.  In the future, he plans to go overseas with the program as well.

 

Wimbledon

 

“Out of all of the Grand Slam tournaments,” says Stockton, “I have to say that playing Wimbledon was my favorite.” It’s the ultimate competition, he explains – like the Master’s in golf, like the Kentucky Derby in horse racing. “Historically, Wimbledon is it! I get goosebumps when I walk through that gate – I still do.”

 

Davis Cup

 

In 1959, Stockton saw his first Davis Cup final and was thrilled by the intensity of it. He was excited to represent the US and be a part of the Davis Cup team for a span of five years. “Back then, we had a small group of us traveling to another country. It was just five or six players, a captain and a trainer,” says Stockton. “And unlike any other tennis competition,” he says, “for that one week, we realized we’re all in this together!” It’s truly a bonding experience and a team event.

 

Becoming a Tennis Pro

 

Some kids dream of becoming a tennis pro.  For Stockton though, the transition just happened quite naturally – he was at the right place at the right time. He was on the strongest university tennis team in the country, TrinityUniversity at San Antonio, Texas. “Five of our top six players turned pro,” says Stockton. “Becoming a pro, for me, just kind of happened. Even in college, I played in a lot of professional tournaments. I couldn’t accept money, if I won, because I was still in college.” In 1972, he played in Wimbledon and made it to third round. “It was my first time around, and I made $300,” he recalls. “Today it would be approximately $75,000 for making it to the same level.” Because he played on such a strong college tennis team, Stockton experienced the best of the best, even when just in the practices from two to three hours every day.

 

Today’s Tennis Pros

 

I asked Stockton who his favorite male tennis player is today. He loves Djokovic. “He seems very genuine, he’s a great player and he always gives credit where credit is due,” says Stockton. “Also when his opponent makes a great shot, he applauds him. No one else does that today.”

 

As for women’s tennis, Stockton says Serena Williams is clearly the best. “She’s not really being tested right now. She’s so much stronger than the other women – she’s head and shoulders above anyone else out there.”

 

Tennis Memories

 

“There are always characters in the game of tennis,” he says. “And there are always classic rivalries.” One of Stockton’s favorite, funniest tennis moments was in a match against Romanian player Ilie Năstase. “It was raining on and off all day. I turned around to serve, and there he was – waiting, holding an umbrella over his head.”

 

Another key player in Stockton’s tennis era was Swedish great Björn Borg. “I played him when he was just sixteen in the French Open,” says Stockton. “And he beat me.” The tricky thing about Borg’s game, according to Stockton, was that he never showed any emotion on his face. “He was very friendly…a joy to be around.” He was also the first player who ever traveled with a coach. Although he was a force to be reckoned with, he quit the game of tennis at just 26 years old. “I think he got frustrated when he lost his #1 ranking and it’s a shame that he never returned.”

 

Growing Up in the Bronx

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Like a lot of folks Around Wellington, Dick Stockton grew up in the Bronx. He left New York at 17 and then lived in Texas for 30 years. But he has fond memories of playing stickball in the Bronx and on Long Island. On some of his tennis tours, they even modified the wooden tennis rackets and used the handle like a stickball bat, in order to play stickball in their spare time.  Stockton was happy to hear that there is a local group making stickball come back to life here in our area, the Wycliffe Stiffs. As I interviewed him at Brooklyn Water Bagles (in Wellington), he gravitated toward the chocolate egg cream machine.  “I thought the term egg cream had disappeared,” says Stockton, who used to love a good chocolate egg cream in his NY days.  Check out this video of Stockton up at bat with the Wycliffe Stiffs, his first time back at bat since his youth.  Not bad!  See the video of Stockton up at bat with the Wycliffe Stiffs.

 

Living in Wellington

 

Dick and Liz Stockton have lived in Wellington for 14 years now, after moving here in 2001. “We love the location!” he says. He likes being close to the beach, but not at the beach. He likes that there are lots of seniors, yet it’s not a retirement community. And he’s pleased with the equestrian activities in town too.

 

“This year our Blue Sky Foundation was picked at the Great Charity Challenge,” he says. This is a wonderful annual event during equestrian season, headed up by Mark Bellissimo, where a group of organizations are randomly picked from 250 local charities. The charity organization, after being entered into the Challenge, is assigned three equestrian riders, who compete for the charity at hand. Stockton was very grateful for the contribution Blue Sky received this year.

 

For more information about the Blue Sky Foundation, visit their website.

 

Blue Sky Foundation

Contact Dick Stockton: 561-371-0036

Donate to Blue Sky


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