The 1970’s were important for the growth of tennis. The Association of Tennis Professionals, Women’s Tennis Association, ATP Doubles computer rankings and wheelchair tennis, were all created throughout the decade.
On July 10, 2010, the International Tennis Hall of Fame will honor one of these aspects of tennis, for the first time. The “godfather” of wheelchair tennis, Brad Parks, will be inducted into the ITHOF.
“I am amazed, and also excited that wheelchair tennis has achieved such stature,” Parks said.
In 1976, at the age of 18, Parks sustained a paralyzing injury in a freestyle skiing accident. He fell in love with wheelchair tennis after playing with his parents, five months after his accident. He decided to spread the word about the new addition to the sport, at various camps and exhibitions. A year later, the first-ever wheelchair tennis tournament was held, at the Los Angeles City Parks and Recreation Department. Parks won the tournament.
Regardless of this accomplishment, Parks remains humble.
“I think of this being more about wheelchair tennis, than Brad Parks,” Parks said.
Parks will be inducted alongside doubles legends, Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde and Gigi Fernandez and Natasha Zvereva, creator of Open tennis, Derek Hardwick and 12-time Grand Slam champion, Owen Davidson. He will be in the Contributor category as well as the first person in the Wheelchair Tennis category. Parks was up against Derek Hardwick and legendary coach, Nick Bollettieri in the Contributor category.
“I really did not expect to get in,” Parks said.
Parks has seen a lot of talented people involved in wheelchair tennis since it began. Two of these, Randy Snow and Ellen de Lange, were instrumental in nominating Parks. Snow was the first Paralympian to be inducted into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame, in 2004. De Lange is the Wheelchair Tennis Officer with the International Tennis Federation.
“We all wanted to have Brad as the first wheelchair person inducted in the Hall of Fame,” De Lange said.
Wheelchair tennis has grown significantly, since its creation. Parks never thought a two-bounce rule for players in wheelchairs would be accepted into the rules of tennis, never expected it to be a Paralympic sport, wheelchairs to be designed specifically for tennis, or to be included in all four Grand Slam tournaments.
“We have come a long way,” De Lange said.
It took until 1988 and 1998 to get wheelchair tennis integrated with the ITF and United States Tennis Association. However, those, along with getting the two-bounce rule approved in the rules of tennis were in Parks’ opinion, his greatest accomplishments.
It was a long, difficult road, but Parks said the hands-on approach to development was worth it and he’s happy with where the game is, today. However, his dedication to wheelchair tennis overshadowed his initial discomfort with fund raising and negative criticism from others.
“The passion in truly believing and living what I was doing made it easier and attractive to our supporters,” Parks said.
“The great thing is that others will follow.”