Author Ken McAllister says Galveston tennis during its heydays ranked among the best in the state of Texas.
So much so that McAllister devoted a chapter of his new book, “Cattle to Courts: A History of Tennis in Texas,” to the island and its past tennis legends.
“I’ve always been interested in the history of the sport in Texas, and Galveston is a deep part of it,” said McAllister, executive director of the United States Tennis Association-Texas Section from 1991-2014.
McAllister was raised and coached in West Texas but made his way to the Gulf Coast when he took over as head tennis coach at Deer Park High School.
While there, McCallister became close friends with then-O’Connell High School head coach Vince Stiglich Jr., who he lauded in chapter 12, “Texas Tennis Mavens.”
“Vince was such a friendly guy,” said McAllister, Deer Park’s coach from 1970-74. “He was kind of an icon, obviously loved by all his players.
“I watched how he managed them, how he showed confidence in them. I knew I could learn from him, a man of great character. Plus, he was fun.”
The two even faced off in dual matches McAllister’s final year as the Deer’s coach, Deer Park surprising the state powerhouse with the only tie in Stiglich’s unheralded 139-4-1 win-loss record.
That particular afternoon, Stiglich opted to leave his top four seniors at home, including Bobby Kleinecke, another one of McAllister’s book mentions.
“I remember how proud I was our kids could even battle with the second-stringers from O’Connell,” McAllister said.
Stiglich learned his lesson, because in a rematch with Deer Park High a few weeks later, he played his four upperclassmen this time around for an O’Connell rout.
Kleinecke was one of 21 Stiglich players to sign with NCAA Division I programs, eventually becoming the longest-tenured head coach in all Texas A&M University sports as the Lady Aggies’ mentor for 26 years, winning the Southwest Conference championship his first season in 1985-86.
“Oddly enough, the way (Stiglich) coached then would work today, I think so,” McCallister said.
That list of Stiglich standouts also included Bobby Gaona, who McAllister wrote about, as well.
Gaona, like many of the O’Connell greats, grew up playing their tennis at the Menard Park courts, taking advantage of the city of Galveston Parks and Recreation Department’s summer junior program run by Stiglich and beforehand by LouCille Scoggins.
“I didn’t know (Scoggins) so much, but I more heard about how she loved helping kids,” McAllister said, writing: “Because of her players, nearby O’Connell High School became one of the strongest Catholic high school tennis teams in Texas.”
“Like Vince, her thing was just giving them the opportunity to play a lifetime sport, the best sport there is in my humble opinion,” McAllister added.
In fact, Stiglich, who also lived across the street from Menard’s courts, now named in his and Scoggins’ honor, was one of her proteges.
McAllister and Gaona, an NAIA All-American at Stephen F. Austin University, would become good friends on and off the courts, as well, playing singles against each other and doubles with each other at a number of tournaments.
McAllister recalled one of the times he beat Gaona in the finals of an Alvin tournament.
“I won 7-6 in the third set,” McAllister said with a smile. “That gave me so much confidence as a player because he was so good.”
Just one of many friendships and memories McAllister, who served as a baseline judge for the infamous “Battle of the Sexes” match between Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King at the Houston Astrodome in 1973, now enjoys sharing with Texas tennis enthusiasts of all ages through his book.
“I realized a lot of people had been forgotten, that the history of the sport (in Texas) hadn’t been recorded, that I’d really like to give these people credit,” McAllister said.
“This is one of the biggest accomplishments of my life, exclamation point, a nice feeling.”
Thanks, in part, to Galveston.