By Brandon Lee
Assistant Sports Information Director
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Huntingdon College and the Hawks' tennis program will host the inaugural John McWilliams Fall Invitational this weekend at Lagoon Park. The three-day event will begin on Friday and conclude Sunday.
McWilliams began serving as Huntingdon's tennis coach in the early 1990s and served in that capacity for more than a decade before resigning in 2002. Outside his stint with the Hawks, McWilliams has served in numerous roles in the sport of tennis throughout Montgomery, the state, and country.
"I've been friends with John McWilliams for 30-plus years," head men's tennis coach Charlie Lane said. "We've worked together in his camps in Alabama and Florida and here at Huntingdon with the Alabama Tennis Academy, and if there's a person in the world that loves tennis more than John McWilliams I don't know who it is. He's a great guy with a great family and he's meant a lot to Huntingdon College particularly."
McWilliams founded the Alabama Tennis Academy, an organization that has been running strong for more than 30 years. But prior to his development in the professional ranks, McWilliams broke into the world of tennis as a student in high school. At A.G. Parrish High School in Selma, he organized the tennis team and began competitive play.
Following his high school days he began his collegiate career at the University of Alabama where he received a bachelor of science in commerce and business administration. McWilliams was a four-year member of the Crimson Tide tennis team and served as team captain.
"Coach (McWilliams) has been always a very important part of the Huntingdon College tennis program," head women's tennis coach Ximena Moore said. "It is such a great honor to have a tournament named after him since he has contributed to Huntingdon, the tennis program and to the sport of tennis in general for so many decades. He is a well known and recognized teaching pro in the south. His camps are well known for his teaching of fundamentals.
"I have been thinking about doing this for a long time, but it just hit me when he was really sick last fall with open heart surgery. I felt that I needed to do something on behalf of tennis at Huntingdon College and a tournament with his name was the least we could have done for him."
This weekend's tournament is the inaugural event for Huntingdon, but is even more important to longtime Huntingdon followers and McWilliams himself.
"I'm highly honored and gratified that the coaches and Huntingdon think that much of me to name a tournament after me," McWilliams said. "I think any coach, after coaching a number of years, would call it quite an honor to have a tournament named after you and I'm grateful for that. I spent many good years traveling and playing matches with Huntingdon and I felt like we always represented Huntingdon in the highest manner such as these coaches we have now do.
"With our new complex and all it's been a good year and I'm proud of our team and what they're doing, but especially was flattered by them naming the tournament after me because I've always stressed sportsmanship above all."
McWilliams' involvement and concern with sportsmanship has not only translated into good results even now, but into future awards and recognitions that Huntingdon student-athletes down the road can look forward to.
"His logo on his Alabama Tennis Academy was 'Tennis is Sportsmanship,' Lane said. "We just thought it'd be a good idea to have his name associated with our tournament. This came up a year ago when we went to the ITA we thought we'd have some smaller type tournament for some of the teams that went to the ITA.
"We're also giving a sportsmanship trophy for the men and women, one from each draw so we can honor him in that way also. Huntingdon also has a John McWilliams Sportsmanship Award given to athletes at the banquet in the spring. He's about sportsmanship, he's a dear friend, and he's been around a long, long time."
McWilliams is a member of the United States Professional Association and Professional Tennis Registry. He has previously worked for Wilson Sporting Goods in promotions and sales, the USTA as an official, and Marion Military Institute. He was inducted into the Alabama Tennis Hall of Fame in 1991, named N.J.C.C.A. Coach of the Year in 1988-1989, and selected to the USPTA Alabama Professional of the Year in 1989 and again in 1991.
He has been a recent victim of health issues, but hopes to be on the upswing as the tournament nears and the 2013-14 season progresses.
"Having had the heart attack last year, I've been inactive on the court," McWilliams said. "But I'm hoping to get back working with the teams this fall and next spring. I feel like I'm out of the woods now with my health and headed for a complete recovery where I can get out on the court. To be a part of a tournament having been in tennis so many years with Wilson Sporting Goods and having traveled all over the country at different levels, this is the icing on the cake for them to honor me in such a way."
The tournament will feature four teams including Millsaps, Birmingham-Southern, Point University and Huntingdon. Players will be placed in separate flights (No. 1-6) in singles and (No. 1-3) in doubles based on order of strength in a round-robin format. Ones will play ones, two's vs. two's, etc, and the same format for 1-3 doubles' players. The remaining players 7-12 will be in a separate draw (B-draw) together.
Players in No. 1-6 singles and No. 1-3 in doubles will be competing for the tournament championship. A team winner will be awarded for both the men's and women's teams, and to determine the winner, every player in singles and doubles will earn one point per match won. At the end of all the rounds in singles and doubles from No. 1-6 singles and No. 1-3 doubles, the team that accumulates the most wins in singles and doubles combined will receive a plaque as the tournament champion. The B-draw will not count for any points.
Friday's action will begin at 2 p.m. with a round of singles and doubles, and Saturday's and Sunday's action will begin at 9 a.m.
"We just want to honor him (John) and hope the tournament will do that for him," Lane said. "We think it's going to be a nice event with four teams coming and every year we're going to try and make it a little bit bigger."