Starting off his tennis career with no formal instruction, just knocking the tennis balls around with neighborhood friends, Dr. William T. Mathes has always thought of his involvement with the sport as somewhat of a hobby.
But hobbies don’t generally last close to eight decades and they hardly ever get recognized.
Today, Mathes, now 93, will be inducted into the Tennessee Tennis Patrons Foundation Hall of Fame at 4 p.m. at Milligan College.
A Greeneville native, Mathes attended Greeneville High School and after graduation attended Milligan College.
He said it was at Milligan that he played tennis on the varsity team, and even earned a letter for playing.
“I graduated from Milligan in ’42 and Milligan was a ... tiny college at that time and we just barely did have a tennis team. It was one of those things if you could play ... a little bit ... you could make the team,” Mathes said.
After graduating with two degrees –– one in biology, the other in chemistry –– he said he went on to medical school at the University of Tennessee Medical School in Memphis, did an internship at John Gaston Hospital and had a year of basic training in his ear, nose and throat specialty at Washington University in St. Louis. Mathes completed his medical education in 1949 following a surgical residency in New York at Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital.
Mathes said he came back to Johnson City in 1950 where he started Ear, Nose and Throat Associates.
After a long stint of not playing tennis, Mathes said he and some fellow doctors and friends would play for fun at the Johnson City Country Club, as well as at the Parks and Recreation Center.
Mathes said after the thrill of tennis wore off for some of his playing companions, he tried to pick up golf, but admitted it wasn’t as fun.
“I really got interested in tennis when my oldest daughter, Myra, was in high school. From that period forward, I’ve played a lot of tennis,” Mathes said. “I knew it was good for me to play because I (was) indoors all the time practicing medicine.”
He said he began competing in the USTAs four national tournaments a year –– at Vancouver, Wash., Laguna Woods, Calif., Boston and Pinehurst, N.C. –– in both singles and doubles tennis.
From there, Mathes’ hobby turned into what some would call a lifestyle.
Officially retiring when he was 86, he said he began to focus on his tennis and began to see improvements in both his game and rankings, as he played on the indoor, hardcourt, grass and clay courts.
Still actively playing, he said he even plays with his daughter, Myra O’Dell, in father-daughter USTA tournaments.
As for being inducted into the Hall of Fame, Mathes said he was a bit overwhelmed.
“You’re supposed to be a big shot for that and I just don’t feel like I am. I’ve enjoyed playing and I’ve done well in those tournaments, partly because I’ve been blessed with exceedingly good health,” he said. “I’m overwhelmed because ... it’s an honor. I’m more honored than anything I guess.”