Eighteen small scissors cut the ribbon that officially opened a new tennis complex in Dallas, the home of Southern Methodist.
The facility has 12 electronic scoreboards, six indoor courts and six outdoor courts, team locker rooms, training rooms and fitness centers. SMU’s newest athletic complex, opened in February 2015, houses one of the American Athletic Conference’s middle-of-the-road tennis programs.
This is not the only construction project in progress for tennis programs still jostling for position in the 2-year-old conference. The United States Tennis Association is building a 100-plus court facility in Lake Nona, Florida, which will be the home to Central Florida’s men’s and women’s teams.
New construction attracts student-athletes, bolstering the recruitment at schools like UCF and SMU.
Temple, meanwhile, has five outdoor courts on Main Campus, adjacent to the Student Pavilion, and lacks an indoor facility.
Although the program’s courts on Main Campus were slated to be demolished before the university changed its plans for the location of its future library, they were refurbished in time for last season.
But, in terms of funding, Temple’s tennis teams still remain behind the pack.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, Temple’s tennis programs received a combined $62,510 in funding for the 2011-2012 fiscal year. After moving from the Atlantic 10 Conference to The American in 2013, the Owls received $60,265 during the 2013-2014 fiscal year, a loss of $2,245.
Temple’s funding for its men’s and women’s tennis teams rank last by far in its conference.
Despite a history that dates back to the 1930s, Temple’s lack of recourses has limited its recruiting abilities and overall success, making it difficult for the Owls to compete against elite opponents.
Harvey Fleegler was a multi-tasker.
He coached Temple men’s tennis while working as a full-time teacher at Cheltenham High School in Montgomery County.
When other teachers punched out for the day, Fleegler drove almost an hour during the winter months to his team’s indoor practice facility at the Liberty Bell Racetrack in Northeast Philadelphia.
“It wasn’t easy being a full-time teacher at Cheltenham High School and leaving my house at 11 p.m. so the team could have indoor tennis time. That was the time I could get the indoor facility for a cheaper rate,” Fleegler said. “I had kids that weren’t beat up by [practicing late] and they loved it.”
The men’s team dominated in the 1970s, winning five straight Eastern Athletic Conference Championships from 1975-1980.
After finding success in ECAC Division II tournaments in the early ‘70s, the Owls were moved up to ECAC Division I in 1975.
“We were invited to the ECAC Division I tournament at Princeton University, which included all of the Ivy League schools,” Fleegler said. “I believe that invitation had a huge impact on the tennis program.”
He received support from Temple’s president at the time, Marvin Wachman, a tennis player in his own right.
“The [tennis program] was in the shadows because of the football and the basketball programs,” Fleegler said. “When I came in, I had a good support system because the president of Temple was [Marvin Wachman].
During the 1971-72 season, the football team went 6-2-1 and the basketball team – under Hall of Fame coach Harry Litwack – went 23-8, overshadowing other programs behind their success.
Fleegler’s most prominent athlete during his Temple tenure, he said, was Nick Gregory. Gregory, a Wayland, Massachusetts native, won an ECAC individual championship at Rider University and a USTA eastern championship in Rochester, New York.
Gregory said he had absolutely no intention of playing for Temple, at first. He had never been to Philadelphia prior to his time as an Owl, and even took a year off after high school.
“Temple was not a fit for me,” Gregory said. “I was not interested in school, so I took a year off to play tennis in Florida … [Fleegler] saw me at one of my high school tournaments, and he said if I wanted to go to college to give him a call.”
Gregory traveled 295 miles to join a developing program that would soon take off after his arrival. The diversity of Fleegler’s recruits attracted Gregory to the university, he said.
“The [light bulb] clicked when I got onto the [tennis] team,” Gregory said. “[Fleegler] had recruited a variety of athletes from Israel and Costa Rica … that was when it all clicked.”
Peter Daub drove his players each day to Ambler for practice. For Daub, it wouldn’t be unusual to see debris on the courts that his teams would have to drive 40 minutes to for practice.
“We really didn’t have any locker room facilities at Ambler,” Daub said. “We had the courts, but it was a rough neighborhood. [The team] would come in a lot of the time and there would be broken glass all over the courts. Traveling to Ambler was challenging because everyone lived in Center City … it was just something we had to live with.”
“[When driving to Ambler], you go through the heart of Philadelphia and you see the bad and you see the good,” Daub added. “After a while, you just accept [the drive] and get into the van. Some guys would sleep and some guys would do homework. We would get really frustrated when we would drive down there and it would rain and you couldn’t get practice in … we made do with less.”
Despite the many challenges he faced as a Temple tennis coach, Daub guided both teams to winning records while in the Atlantic 10 Conference during his tenure. He compiled a 100-49 record coaching the men from 1982-89, and a 64-37 record with the women from 1985-89.
“When I took over, both teams were struggling,” Daub said. “I felt that the Atlantic 10 was a strong conference and if we could get some good players, we could win that conference.”
Daub’s programs finished no worse than fourth in any season in the A-10. The men’s program won the A-10 championship in 1985 against a nationally ranked West Virginia squad.
Despite the relative success, Daub said he struggled with recruiting the best athletes to Temple during his time as coach.
“[The men’s team] got by and won an [A-10] championship,” Daub said. “You just had to develop players because you weren’t going to be getting the best players in the country … my recruiting budget was limited.”
Andrew Sorrentino was recruited by Fleegler in 1981, but played under Daub from 1982-86.
Temple tennis continued to grow in the 1980s, although Sorrentino said the 1982-83 and 1983-84 seasons were tough for the men’s team, as it finished sixth and third, respectively, in the A-10.
“The program was growing,” Sorrentino said. “We were middle of the road in the Atlantic 10. But then in my junior and senior year, we had a very good team [and won the 1985 A-10 championship]. [Daub] was hard on us, but we responded well to him pushing us.”
Daub’s final two seasons as head coach resulted in solid finishes for both the men and the women’s teams. From 1988-89, the men’s team finished second in the A-10 in both years, while the women’s team finished in third both years, respectively.
Competing on a budget
Sorrentino’s teams in the 1990s took many road trips. The best they could eat on budget would often be fast food.
“When I was there as a player and as a coach we had full scholarships on both teams,” Sorrentino said. “The women’s team had eight scholarship and the men had four and a half. Our budget outside of the scholarships wasn’t much. We were scraping the bottom of the barrel … we had to make a lot of McDonald’s runs and that is how we managed.”
Sorrentino’s women’s program won back-to-back A-10 championships in 1994 and 1995. His men’s team finished second three times in the A-10 tournament (1992, 1997, 1998), but failed to claim the trophy.
Rob McCune played under Sorrentino from 1995-1998 and said that training was challenging for the team because of the limited resources. The team used to run the stairs of McGonigle Hall to improve conditioning.
“We had established a strong recruiting pipeline internationally,” Sorrentino said. “The kids really like the idea of playing tennis in the big city. The university was getting a lot of hype from [international students] who would communicate each other about Temple.”
Although the men’s team won five straight ECAC titles in the 1970s, many players were still unaware of the university’s tennis programs.
“When I was looking at schools to play college tennis at, I had no idea that Temple’s program was so strong,” McCune said. “The foundation of the program was growing in the 1980s … I think to most people, Temple tennis was an anomaly because it was a city program.”
‘A black eye’
Temple saw its perfect compliance record with the NCAA come to an end amid a men’s tennis scandal that occurred during the 2004-05 season.
The NCAA found that Bill Hoehne, the head coach at the time, violated its rules by fielding an ineligible athlete under a false name. Hoehne allegedly hid the ineligible player by mumbling his name in pregame warm-ups and telling other teams not to announce his player’s names during road matches.
Temple fired Hoehne on April 12, 2005 amid the allegations of fraud.
The men’s team forfeited all matches the ineligible athlete played during the 2004-05 season, and the university received a two-year probation from the NCAA that was announced in May 2007.
“When a school has a black eye with the NCAA, it’s hard to overcome,” Fleegler said. “It creates a dead feeling. … these types of things set a program back.”
Hoehne did not return calls requesting an interview for this story.
The scandal controlled the rest of the tennis teams’ first decade of the 21st century, as both programs struggled to perform like they did from the 1970s through the mid-1990s. The men’s team, under Hoehne, went 37-63. From 1998-2005, the women’s program under former coaches Mikael Rudolfsen, Tracy Tooke and Traci Green went 57-96.
Although the women’s team struggled for the majority of this time period, it won the A-10 championship in 2003 during Tooke’s tenure.
Picking up the pieces
Steve Mauro said he has asked Temple’s athletic administration for more support to his tennis programs, but it hasn’t answered the call.
“[Extra funding for scholarships] is not in their plans right now,” Mauro said. “Hopefully it will be in the future.”
Mauro has gone 107-102 since taking over for Hoehne in 2005.
“How I run my program is completely different than how [Hoehne] did,” Mauro said. “We approached everything differently; our professionalism, our practices, our on- and off-court conduct as well as our team rules.”
Due to the fraud committed by his predecessor, Mauro’s team was suspended from competing in the 2008 A-10 championships.
During the A-10 championships, while his men’s team was sitting at home, Mauro watched the Jill Breslin-coached win the A-10 title for the first time since 2003.
Breslin left the Owls after just one season, and Mauro inherited the reigning A-10 champs. He led them to a second place finish in the 2008-09 season.
Dalton Balthaser can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @DaltonBalthaser