FARGO-Ron York was sitting on a bench at Island Park on Friday night in a setting that stirred memories. The 65-year-old was waiting to play his tennis match on the first day of the Red River Open on the courts where he started to hone his game more than 40 years ago.
"I started playing on these courts when I was 19," said York, who also recalled the Jack Kramer autographed wood racket that he used to play with.
York is a tennis pro who now lives in Eagan, Minn. Friday marked the first time he was playing in Fargo in a tennis tournament in "at least 20 years."
"This was the place to play," York said of playing at Island Park from when he was 19 years old and into his 20s. "You could come here and there would be 10 to 15 people here to play tennis with so you didn't have to call anybody."
The Red River Open has 176 competitors, ranging in age from and Under-10 division to players in their 60s, according to tournament director Oliver Summers. Summers said more than 500 matches are expected to be played before the event ends on Sunday evening.
"It's nice to see so many people playing tennis," said Summers, the head tennis pro at Courts Plus Community Fitness. "This is always during Wimbledon. I think that helps."
From Mapleton, N.D., York played college basketball at both North Dakota State and the University of Jamestown (then called Jamestown College) in the late 1960s and early 1970s. York also played tennis at Jamestown.
York was a multi-sport athlete at Mapleton High School, but didn't start playing tennis until he went to NDSU. A Bison wrestling coaching legend gave York his first taste of the sport.
"I took up tennis after I had a tennis-golf class with Bucky Maughan at NDSU," York said with a laugh.
York is a member of the United States Tennis Association (USTA) Northern Hall of Fame, earning induction in 2001. He's the director of tennis at Wooddale Tennis & Health in Woodbury, Minn., even though basketball is his passion.
"That's still my first love, but I love playing tennis," York said.
York had a tryout with the Chicago Bulls in 1971 and practiced with the team for a couple of weeks, he said. York remembered playing against a hard-nosed Jerry Sloan, who was a guard for the Bulls.
"Jerry Sloan is probably the best strong safety playing basketball," York said with a smile. "It was more than a hand check. It was a forearm jab."
JoAnn York, Ron's wife who was also at Island Park on Friday, said she first met Ron on a Fargo tennis court, where he was giving community lessons to a large group.
"It's just old memories," said JoAnn, who married Ron in 1975. "We met each other and we got engaged two weeks later."
York played both basketball and tennis into his 30s, but gave up basketball due to his knees. His three sons also played basketball. Ron still plays two tennis matches per week year round, mostly doubles.
"I had a weekend free and I saw the tournament I thought this might be some fun," York said of playing in Fargo again. "I haven't played any singles this year so this should be interesting. ... I spent a lot of time here (Island Park). This is a fun place to play."