Lee Hammel started playing tennis at age 11, not with a coach to refine his strokes or a new racket for confidence, but on the public courts, at Reservoir Park, and with what could best be called a beat up old racket.
It was his game, though, and he was good at it, first playing tournaments for himself, then East High and later the University of Utah, his last year winning the school title and reaching the No. 3 singles ranking.From that beginning Hammel has followed the bouncing ball through 67 years, seldom found far from the sport he learned as a youngster, to become one of the game's most arduous supporters, its most faithful followers and one of its best players. In Hammel's case, like wine, he got better with age.
It was therefore only right that at 67, Hammel should be voted into Utah's Sports Hall of Fame, duly recognized for his tennis skills, both on and off the court.
Looking back, there is a job within the game of tennis Hammel hasn't filled, from umpire, to coach (his East High girls' team recently won the State High School 4A Championship), to Utah Tennis Association president, to applauding fan.
Former Utah tennis coach Harry James said it best in recognizing that "a lot of things wouldn't have gotten done if Lee hadn't done them. He's a tremendous asset to the game, not only as a player but as an administrator."
It hasn't been, however, until the past decade that his talents have been duly recognized nationwide, and with in the past few years worldwide.
Between 1977 and 1980, his national ranking bounced between eight and 18, finally spring up and hitting No. 1 in the men's 55 doubles with partner Bob Sherman of Santa Barbara, Calif. The two were ranked No. 1 in singles doubles in 1986 and this year are No. 3 in the country. Hammel is ranked No. 8 nationally in 65 singles this year. He has been ranked as high as No. 4 in singles.
Among his most recent tennis notes were the two three-set matches he played against the well-known Bobby Riggs, one three years ago and the second a year later. Another was the blowout Hammel and Sherman posted over of the highly respected team of Tom Brown and Riggs in the International Championships this summer.
His most visible recognition came in 1986 and 1987 when he was invited to sit in the No. 3 spot in a four-man team represent the United States on the Britannica Cup Team, and seniors equal to Davis Cup. Playing in England, Hammel stepped onto the courts three times and finished with a perfect record - 3-0, and the following year in Sweden he also went undefeated, 2-0. Both years the U.S. team won.