By Jack Cunniff
NEWPORT, Rhode Island – On Saturday July 9th, 2011, the International Tennis Hall of Fame inducted its two newest members: eight-time Grand Slam champion Andre Agassi, and Fern Lee â€œPeachyâ€ Kellmeyer.Â Under bright, sunny skies, a packed house of 3,710 witnessed the latest inductions along with the friends and family of the honorees.Â Christopher Clouser, Chairman of the Tennis Hall of Fame was master of ceremonies, held on Center Court at the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, Rhode Island.
Kellmeyer, the first employee of the Womenâ€™s Tennis Association, was the first to be celebrated Saturday in the category of Contributor.Â Stacy Allaster, Chairman and CEO of the WTA, performed the honors by providing opening remarks for Peachy.Â She spoke of how Kellmeyer made tennis history very early in her life.Â In 1959 Kellmeyer was, at the time, the youngest woman to play in the U.S. Championships at age 15, and later was the first woman to compete on a Division I menâ€™s collegiate tennis team.Â Allaster also acknowledged Kellmeyerâ€™s role in Title IX legislation, by suing to overturn the practice of universities refusing scholarships to women.
In her acceptance speech, Kellmeyer thanked those that helped her through the years, and those that believed in her when she didnâ€™t believe in herself.Â She cited the late Gladys Heldman and Billie Jean King who were responsible for laying the foundation for the womenâ€™s tour.Â Once the WTA was created, Peachy said, â€œI had a job.â€Â Kellmeyer also acknowledged the support of friends and co-workers, including Stephanie Tolleson and Larry Scott.
Kellmeyer grew up in Charleston, West Virginia, with her parents, her brother Freddie, and her sister Kay.Â She inherited â€œmy grandmotherâ€™s name, Fern Lee, and I also inherited a club foot.â€Â While it was easy for her to get rid of the name Fern Lee, it wasnâ€™t as easy to get rid of a club foot.Â But through this, Kellmeyer learned the lesson â€œyou donâ€™t have to be 100% to give 100%.â€
As Kellmeyer herself said, she wasnâ€™t the main attraction Saturday, but was happy to play opening act for Andre Agassi.Â Simone Ruffin, an 18-year-old 2009 graduate of the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy in Las Vegas, NV, introduced Agassi.Â Ruffin, salutatorian of the 2009 class and now a student at Concordia University, charmed the crowd by talking about her â€œhometown heroâ€.Â She spoke of Agassiâ€™s skills on the tennis court and his ability to put fear in the hearts of his opponents.Â He wasnâ€™t perfect, â€œthere was that mullet thing,â€ she joked about Agassiâ€™s 1980s hairstyle.Â But more important than his tennis skills has been Agassiâ€™s commitment to the children of Las Vegas.Â His efforts to give back to his community have lead to the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy, a childrenâ€™s medical facility, and a Boys and Girls club.Â Ruffin sited his service and guidance as what makes him â€œone of the greatest men of all time.â€
Agassi began his comments by sharing that his father Mike recently asked him during a Q&A session Andre was giving in Las Vegas, â€œHow do you know when to stop telling your kids what to do?â€ While Agassi was caught off guard at the time, and didnâ€™t know what to say, he answered his father today. Explaining that his father told him to win Wimbledon, to win all four Grand Slams, to become a Tennis Hall of Fame Champion, and to marry Steffi Graf, Agassiâ€™s response was: â€œDad, donâ€™t ever stop telling me what to do.â€
Agassi thanks tennis whenever he thinks of the students in his Las Vegas school, whenever he thinks of his wife and children, and whenever he thinks of his plans for the future.Â While he â€œfell in love with tennis far too late in his life,â€ he has tennis to thank for making all these possible.Â He credited tennis for teaching him his life lessons.Â He noted that tennis uses the language of life: â€œservice, advantage, break, fault, love.â€Â He learned that â€œwhat I do instantly affects what you do, and vice versa,â€ and that thereâ€™s no such thing as perfect.Â In a lighthearted moment, Agassi explained tennis is a lonely sport which is why so many players not only talk to themselves, but answer.Â But that loneliness taught him to stand alone.
Others that Agassi noted in his remarks were Arthur Ashe, who showed courage by treating others fairly, while he himself was often treated unfairly, and Billie Jean King, who brought change to society through womenâ€™s equality.Â He thanked his parents, Mike and Betty, his brother Phil, his trainer Gil Reyes, past coaches Nick Bollettieri, Darren Cahill, and Brad Gilbert, and finally his wife, Stefanie Graf.Â Agassi told the crowd that he wrote each of them letters of thanks that heâ€™s posting on his website to serve as a public tribute to them.Â He spoke of an influential meeting with Nelson Mandela, who told Agassi, â€œWe must live our lives carefully.â€ Taking that advice to heart, and being true to his character, Agassi pulled himself up from rock bottom, and achieved the number one ranking â€“ not an accomplishment, but â€œa reflection of an accomplishment, the symptom of good choices, and the result of being careful.â€
He closed the dayâ€™s celebration by sharing his personal mission statement:Â that we have a responsibility to each other, and that itâ€™s never too late to be inspired and to change. â€œWe are here to do good quietly, to shine in secret, to give when thereâ€™s no crowd applauding, to give of ourselves to someone who can offer us nothing.â€ He encouraged his children, son Jaden and daughter Jaz, and all young children to reach for their dreams, because no dream is impossible.Â It was an inspirational speech that moved the Newport crowd, and worthy of a Hall of Fame induction.