A strong case can be made that professional tennis grew to its current popularity because of tournaments held in San Bernardino 80 years ago. Two main reasons are Jack Kramer and Perry T. Jones who were prime movers in making San Bernardino one of the nation’s busiest tennis stops. From here, the two is credited with elevating tennis from an amateur sport into a well-paying professional enterprise. Kramer and Jones are in the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
In his biography, Kramer said his first win was the 1934 San Bernardino Junior Tourney. At the same time, Jones, a 1911 graduate of San Bernardino High School was the first chairman of the national tennis youth development committee. He is credited with discovering, developing and promoting some of the greatest American tennis players of all-time.
To date, Jones appears the only alumnus from the San Bernardino Unified School District to be inducted into a national professional sports hall of fame. Due to volumes of his promotional work, Jones was selected to the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1970, the same year he died at age 80. Along with Kramer, the Los Angeles Times reported that among those Jones guided into HOF careers were Don Budge, Pancho Gonzales, Bobby Riggs, Jimmy Conners and Arthur Ashe.
According to the Sun-Telegram newspaper, Jones co-sponsored tennis tournaments that drew the top players of the 1930’s to the San Bernardino Open, the Lake Arrowhead Championships, and to club tourney’s held at Perris Hill Park, Colton and Arrowhead Springs Hotel. Jones brought to town players like world #1 ranked Frank Shields and HOFers like Ted Schroeder and Gene Mako. Standout women players like Helen Wills Moody and Maureen Connelly often competed in tournaments against men. No talk of local tennis is complete unless the late Jim Verdieck is mentioned. Verdieck coached the U of Redlands tennis team to 14 national championships.
After winning the 1934 Sun Telegram Tourney city junior “C” division crown, Kramer could not defeat his Arrowview Junior High classmate Jimmy Glass for the overall junior title. At 13, Kramer was already upsetting seasoned adult players. At 14, Kramer defeated San Bernardino Tourney favorite Jack Leeny, who was also the #1 singles player at San Bernardino Valley College, according to the Sun.
The Kramer family came to San Bernardino in 1931 after their father was transferred to the railroad shops. When he was attending Riley Elementary, it was reported that he became interested in tennis after watching the Hippenstiel brothers play. The Hippenstiel’s were at the top locally, but by the time he got to Arrowview, Kramer was competing against them. Until World War II broke out, Clyde, Glenn, and Bob Hippenstiel were competing against the world’s best.
Kramer never enrolled at SBHS, instead his family moved to Montebello so he could be closer to the Los Angeles Tennis Club operated by Perry T. Jones. Under Jones’ direction, Kramer earned the National Amateur Championship while a sophomore at Montebello HS. The CIF lists Kramer and Pete Sampras as its top all-time male tennis players.
According to all tennis governing bodies, Kramer ranks among the top-10 of all-time. Some argue that he was the best.
Kramer won the first of his six U.S. Open titles in 1946 while still an amateur. In 1947, he decided to enter the U.S. Open as a professional because he was offered $50,000, a large sum in those days. Before Kramer signed his contract, players customarily received only a trophy. He later admitted to the Los Angeles Times that amateurs were accepting money under the table and that he “laundered” prize money through thoroughbred horses.
Kramer’s campaign for legitimate prize money for players included him organizing a boycott of Wimbleton as well as co-sponsoring his Jack Kramer Open Tournaments. During his run of winning a total of three Wimbleton championships, Kramer was the No.1 player in the world.
Historians, players and writers called Kramer the most influential person of modern day tennis. Journalist Bud Collins was quoted in Kramer’s 2009 obituary that when considered as a competitor, an administrator or broadcaster, “Jack Kramer was the most important figure in the history of the game.” The Associated Press called him the sports first big power who founded the Tennis Player’s Association.
Despite gaining enormous popularity, neither Kramer nor Jones thought they were too big to return to the San Bernardino area. Shortly after he signed his pro contract, Jones arranged for Kramer to play an exhibition match at Redlands HS against Australian champ Danny Pails. Kramer, along with Pancho Gonzales, Natalie and Wally Sanchez conducted numerous youth programs such as the one at San Bernardino Valley College. Almost until his death, Kramer owned the Los Serranos Golf Club in Chino Hills.