Five hot days and close to 2,500 balls had been used up last week in the NCAA tennis championship before it came time for the singles final Saturday morning. The bleachers flanking court No. 1 at the University of Georgia in Athens were jammed with spectators risking sunburn, and hundreds more risked chigger bites to watch from the steep hillside above one end. The pair of tanned finalists, both as taut as racket gut—and both from Trinity University—were introduced. One was four-time All-America Dick Stockton, a native of Garden City, N.Y., the top seed. Across the net: sophomore and two-time All-America Brian Gottfried from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Stockton's roommate. After approximately 90 practice sets against each other, they had traveled all the way from San Antonio, Texas to play an intrasquad match for the national championship. Ridiculous.
It was that kind of happy hoggish week for the Trinity Tigers, NCAA runners-up the previous two years. They marched into Georgia as heavy favorites, winners of 36 dual matches in a row, so strong that their No. 4 player, Paul Gerken, was picked for the Davis Cup team.
Tennis Tech lived up to its publicity handouts. There were 185 men from 56 colleges entered in the singles, but four of the eight quarterfinalists were from Trinity. Trinity's No. 3 man, Bob McKinley, won the Osuna Memorial Trophy for sportsmanship, competitive excellence and contributions to tennis. The Tigers clinched the team title Friday morning and when Stockton beat his pal Gottfried in four sets Saturday the team point total rose to a record 36. And Trinity achieved something else of note: it was the first time in 13 years that USC or UCLA did not win the tournament.
Actually, Trinity's only stiff competition came from a third California school, Stanford, which had beaten UCLA in a dual match this season for the first time in 30 years. Stanford's most impressive weapon was the first serve of lefty Roscoe Tanner, a junior from Lookout Mountain, Tenn. This particular shot sends linesmen scattering for cover. Tanner and teammate Alex Mayer reached the singles semifinals before losing to Stockton and Gottfried, and teamed up to win the doubles, beating Trinity's Gerken and Gottfried Saturday afternoon.
But the show was Trinity's, and nobody enjoyed it more than Coach Clarence Mabry, the architect of Tennis Tech. Mabry grew up in Alice, Texas, an oil town 40 miles from Corpus Christi. In Alice, a backhand is what your daddy gives you for being smart-alecky. As a boy he sold what he thought were enough Saturday Evening Post subscriptions to earn himself a bicycle and he mailed off for it. The Post disappointed him by sending a tennis racket instead. His high school did not even have a team and Corpus Christi was the nearest place to practice. Nevertheless, Mabry became the state high school champion, Southwest Conference singles and doubles champion for the University of Texas and an NCAA doubles finalist. After graduation he worked as a salesman in San Antonio and dabbled in semipro baseball and weekend tennis tournaments.
In 1956 he became the coach at Trinity, a small Presbyterian school built on the site of an old rock quarry. (A sheer, 40-foot stone bluff bisects the pretty campus.) His first team was a gathering of local municipal-court habitu�s, three of whom were sons of bus drivers. From that beginning he has built a small empire. He is now part owner of the T-Bar-M tennis ranch in New Braunfels, Texas, where Australian John Newcombe is the pro, and he has a stake in a posh indoor club in Dallas. His Trinity Tigers have had 17 winning seasons, and his program is self-supporting enough that when the school administration decided to stop giving athletic grants-in-aid starting in September, tennis was exempted.
But one goal that had eluded Mabry was an NCAA championship. He had missed as a player and a coach, though the latter failure was partly his own fault. In 1963, for instance, Trinity was filled to the rim of its rocky cliff with talent, including the country's first-and second-ranked amateurs, Chuck McKinley and Frank Froehling, plus Cliff Buchholz and Butch Newman. Mabry elected to skip the NCAAs and instead take his aces to Wimbledon, where McKinley won. McKinley and Froehling went to England every year and never saw the NCAA tournament.
Trinity finished a close second to UCLA the last two years, and with four All-Americas returning Mabry knew he now had his best shot at first place, especially since UCLA had lost two undergraduate stars, Jimmy Connors and Haroon Rahim, to the pros. Still, he took no chances. For the three nights before departure, he had his men come to his house for steak dinners. Since school was out, he knew they would subsist on cheeseburgers and French fries otherwise.
The matches were held on recently resurfaced Laykold Courts, just like those at Tennis Tech. The tourney director, public-address announcer, publicist and seller of slightly used match balls was Georgia Tennis Coach Dan Magill, who grew up near the campus. As a youngster he did not sell Post subscriptions; he tended the school's old red-clay courts. In the depths of the Depression he promoted what promised to be an epic battle there: a fight to the death between a king snake and a timber rattlesnake—admission one dime. The only trouble was the reptiles were so afraid of the spectators, or each other, that they would not fight or even let out a respectable hiss. Magill gave no refunds.
The death struggles in this latest Magill promotion were somewhat more satisfying, especially to Trinity. Perhaps the most surprising was between Paul Gerken and Miami's Eddie Dibbs, the tournament's No. 2 seed who had been unbeaten in singles all season. Indeed, he had lost only one set. Gerken beat him in the fifth round 6-2, 6-2. Dibbs had suffered a stomach ailment before the tournament started, but the upset still was a much-needed morale booster for Gerken, a handsome, husky blond who is so shy the linesmen bark at him. He had played well as a freshman at Stanford, but became dissatisfied and transferred to Trinity, only to find himself playing fourth fiddle.