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People Who Make It Happen: Don Royer

October 28, 2004 12:34 PM

Central Pennsylvania Tennis: The Historian Is in

Royer & trophies

MANHEIM, Pennsylvania – On the wall of the Manheim Tennis Club (MTC) hangs a large wooden plaque with the names of players who have won the club's coveted singles championship. While other MTC plaques and awards line the wall, this particular one seems to demand the most reverence. Although there are many championship names, each engraved on its own brass plate and claiming a spot in MTC history, it is perhaps the more tarnished ones that are the most intriguing and bring to mind visions of days past when men played tennis in long pants, etiquette was not an option, and wooden racquets ruled the courts. Of course today much of this has changed; however, the Manheim Tennis Club is still a prominent force in tennis and continues to thrive after celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2003.

Central Pennsylvania Tennis District and the Manheim Tennis Club can claim another tennis "institution": Don Royer. Winner of seven MTC singles championships (1954-1968) and member of the MTC Singles Hall of Fame, Don is an obvious personal success. However, unlike many who fade away from the sport after their moment in the sun, Don has made it part of his life's work to remain dedicated to the world of tennis.

Born and raised in Manheim, Don lives in what can only be described as a shrine to tennis. Although most of his memorabilia has been restricted to the basement and the shed – an idea strongly suggested by his wife – there is incriminating evidence of Don's passion throughout the rest of the Royer home. The first clue is evident upon entering the house through the TV room, where, with one click of the remote, the room is quickly filled with the sights and sounds of a classic Connors match, care of the Tennis Channel. "I have it on all the time," says Don.

Next are the many framed photographs decorating the walls, each a different assortment of racquets, balls and other tennis paraphernalia. Royer is the still-life photographer.

Balls & racquets

While these things signify a true tennis enthusiast, nothing compares to Don's basement, which is home to over 400 antique racquets, a wall of trophies, shelves of old tennis-ball cans and stacks upon stacks of newspaper clippings, scores, autographed pictures, posters and anything else to do with tennis. When asked how his collection got to be so grand, Don replies with an easy answer to a frequently asked question. "Just like a millionaire, the more you get, the more you want."

If this theory is true, Don may have to invest in another house.

Along with this impressive collection comes an even more impressive knowledge of his subject matter. Remembering scores of matches from the 1960s and explaining why a line of antique racquets was made with piano strings, Don is a wealth of knowledge regarding tennis – both its local and more general history. His quest now, as he continues to juggle the duties of serving as men's coordinator for USTA/Middle States intersectional team events, historian for the Central Penn District and co-creator of the Senior Interdistrict League, is to date all 400-plus racquets, using an extra-large book for racquet identification. A chore that would make most people cringe is fun to Don Royer, who looks forward to resuming this challenge every day.
Illustrating Don's dedication and love of the sport of tennis is his remarkable record during his time as captain of the Inter County League, the format for adult, organized tennis until 1981, when the USTA began its league play. While serving as captain for 22 years, Don never missed one match. Expanding on this statistic, Royer grins as he remembers the frustration of his wife, who got upset that Don was missing so many weddings to play tennis.

"I managed to make it to all of the receptions," says Royer with a laugh.

With unparalleled dedication and knowledge, Don Royer is an authority on the sport of tennis, not to mention a walking history book on tennis in Central Pennsylvania and the Manheim Tennis Club in particular. He is a great example of how tennis can enrich someone's life so much that it becomes a part of one’s life forever.
"Tennis is like a fraternity," says Royer, who has played in the same bridge club, consisting solely of tennis players, for 25 years. When asked how to keep the fraternity of tennis growing, Royer simply answers, "Keep it affordable." He also suggests to "Focus on the juniors, because they are the future of tennis; but don't ever forget about the seniors because they are the past... the history."

The final stop in the Royer house tour is a view out the living-room window.

Manheim Tennis Club

"This is the lot I bought to build my tennis court," says Royer, still hopeful as he looks out onto his vacant side yard. Although it was purchased some time ago, and there are still no plans to build, Don's dedication is proven – so never count out the possibility of "Royer Court." Until then, he'll just have to keep playing at great local facilities such as the Manheim Tennis Club, where he can continue to help keep its history alive.
With so much focus on the "next best thing," it is easy to forget about the history of tennis. Luckily there are people out there like Don Royer, who will never let this happen. A part of history himself, named one of the best male tennis players in Lancaster County over the past 50 years by the Intelligencer Journal, Royer invites anyone who is interested into his life of tennis preservation. The historian is always in.

 

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