In 1982, Jim Winters and Derek Juazo had an idea to start a gay tennis club. Derek wanted an elite club, only for the open-level players. After many weeks of soliciting in the gay papers, they were able to get their first players. Some that are still around today: Joe Arnold, George Hamilton, Marco Ruiz to name a few. They had their first meeting in 1982 in a restaurant in Old Town San Diego. It was there that they decided as a group to change the format from the "Elite" to anyone that wanted to play tennis. Derek was not happy about this decision and left the club, never to be heard from again.
Jim Winters was elected as the first President of the San Diego Tennis Federation in February of 1983.
In the early days, the monthly meetings were at The Grande in Pacific Beach or at a member's house. Potlucks were "in," and meetings were informal. Their most controversial decisions were selecting a logo for the first T-shirt and finding a house for the next meeting. But on a more serious side, there were some challenges. They struggled to make sure there were new activities to keep potential members coming out. Jim started the singles ladder and also organized the first team tennis season, which now is the SDTF's most popular activity. In early 1983, the SDTF planned a challenge match with the Los Angeles Tennis Association (LATA), which took place at San Diego City College that spring. After considerable boasting by Fred Orange, SDTF was humbled 10-1, George Hamilton getting the only win.
By 1984, the team had grown to about 25 members. They continued to meet every Sunday morning at City College for challenge matches and socializing. They also re-challenged the LATA team to come down for another match in February of 1984. It was played at the River Valley Tennis Club, and this time the SDTF only lost 12-6.
In 1983, Jim made first contact with Les Balmain of the Gay Tennis Federation (in San Francisco) at the US Gay Open, and set up the first team challenge with San Francisco for October of 1984. The SDTF shocked themselves by winning 16-15. After a taste of winning, the SDTF confidently traveled to LA in February for their third match against team LATA. A 35-to-5 pummeling was the result. So much for the winning streak. The rematch with San Francisco that fall was not a whole lot better, as SDTF lost 20-13.
1985 was a transitional year in many ways for the SDTF. At the mid-year elections, Jim decided not to run again, but there seemed to be a worthy successor in the wings. Few players had seemed so enthusiastic about leading the club in recent years as Scott Williford. He was elected as the second President in May of 1985.
The club had grown to about 40 members by this time, and there were a lot of new challenges. The club drafted and approved the first Charter and By-Laws, and also held the first meeting to discuss the idea of hosting a national gay tournament. Scott appointed Matt Carlson and George Hamilton as Tournament Chairs for the "First Annual" San Diego Tennis Federation Open. After the event, they wondered if it might be their "last." On President's weekend in February of 1986, the first day was totally washed out by the only rain that whole month, but the tournament got back on schedule and finished in beautiful sunshine. Bill Nissley was the first champion, beating Arnie Barba.
The history of the SDTF would not be complete without mentioning Gay Games II in 1986 (in SF). Team San Diego returned home with more medals than any other city - 12; and they wore them proudly at an inspirational closing ceremonies in Kesar Stadium. The team had come of age, over one of the most memorable weeks of their lives.
In late 1985, the LA team had "problems" in making it up to SF for their July 4th challenge match. The addition of a third California team had made scheduling all the head-to-head challenge matches more difficult. Jim and Scott then drafted a letter to the LATA and GTF Presidents, Fred Orange and Grant Trent, in September of 1985. The letter proposed a three-team match to be played once a year that would be called the "California Cup". After considerable debate over the exact format, it was finally decided that the format would play the top 24 players from each team in singles and doubles. The first California Cup match was played in October of 1986 and was hosted by San Diego, with the site rotating each year thereafter. Apparently, the depth of players had increased tremendously that year, because it was in large part due to the new faces that the SDTF was able to WIN the first California Cup handily.
Rich Ryan, bringing his experience and elegance from Houston, was elected in late 1986 as the third SDTF President.
The 2nd San Diego Open was held again on President's Day weekend in February of 1987. This time the second day was partially rained out, but managed to finish again with some great weather on the final day. That year Arnie Barba took top honors in Open Singles and Doubles. By the summer of 1987, Scott Williford was back as President with a mission in mind - to retain the California Cup and to find a new date for the third San Diego Open (that wouldn't cause a rain-out). They were successful on only half of that, though. An inspired group of San Francisco players pulled out all the stops in Cal Cup to edge the SDTF by four points on their Berkeley courts, by winning the second championship.
After doing studies of historical February weather patterns, the SDTF Board pushed to move the date of the 1988 tournament to July 4th, since Seattle had not committed to having another tournament at that time. It was as if the tournament was a culmination of many years of hard work paying off for the club. Everything seemed to work out without a hitch. Mother Nature even cooperated with perfect weather. The 1988 tournament was one of the club's proudest accomplishments, before or since.
And that's some of the history of San Diego gay tennis. The club has come a long way in the last eighteen years, and is rightfully proud to be part of the growing history of gay tennis.