Many of you may not know that John Ed Mathison was inducted into the Alabama Tennis Hall of Fame last Saturday in Birmingham, Alabama. Paul Winn introduced John Ed. Paul is from Montgomery, and is an excellent tennis player and businessman, who for the past 14 years has been chairman of the Blue-Gray Collegiate Tennis Tournament which has become one of the most prestigious college tournaments in the country.
I am attaching a copy of Paul’s introductory speech. I wanted to share this with you.
Executive Assistant to Dr. John Ed Mathison
John Ed Mathison
Hall of Fame
March 22, 2014
First of all, I would like to thank John Ed for the undeserved, but much appreciated opportunity to introduce him today. Thanks John Ed.
Now, some of you may be asking, “How good was John Ed?”
I’ll tell you a story. In Montgomery we have this event called the Blue Gray National Tennis Classic. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. It’s the state’s oldest tennis event – 66 years old. Unlike today, the tournament has not always been about teams, like Alabama and Auburn, playing each other. For the first 35 years the Blue Gray was an individual tournament, featuring great college players – most of who aspired to become touring pros. Players like Tony Trabert, Stan Smith, Donald Dell, Barry McKay, Kevin Curren, Vic Seixas and Pat DuPre, just to name a few. By the way, none of those players ever won the Blue Gray – it has always been very difficult to get your name inscribed on the Bushman Cup.
Occasionally, one of these players would drop out at the last minute and leave a wildcard spot. That happened one year in the 70’s, and that spot was given to this new minister in Montgomery that had a reputation of being a good player – some fellow named John Ed Mathison.
John Ed was pitted against one of the seeded players, this young college guy from Michigan that was staying at Red Blount’s house. Red Blount was one of Alabama’s most successful businessmen, a former Postmaster General of the United States, and a big tennis enthusiast. Now, this young college player had bragged to Red how he intended to use the Blue Gray to launch his professional career. He planned on turning pro in just two weeks. So, Red took time from work to watch his house guest make quick work of this Mathison fellow.
Well, needless to say, it didn’t quite work out as planned. John Ed dispatched him in straight sets.
After the match, Red Blount (who could be as his named implied – rather blunt), said, “Son, if I were planning on becoming a professional tennis player, but I couldn’t come to Montgomery and beat a 36 year old Methodist minister — I believe I would find another line of work.”
Well, the truth is John Ed was capable of making a lot of aspiring tennis pros rethink their career – THAT’s how good he was!
In fact, he was so good that in that same year, John Ed went on to win the Southern 35 clay courts in Atlanta, AND the Southern 35 hard courts in Macon.
Later, he made it to the finals of the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Unfortunately, his opponent in the finals was the third ranked player in the nation — no problem – John Ed beat him. –THAT’s how good he was!
John Ed didn’t just beat on the old guys. He also had notable wins over great players in the Open division. Players like Pat DuPre, who would make the semi -finals of Wimbledon just a couple of years after losing to John Ed. He was THAT good.
John Ed was unquestionably one of the most dominant players in the South. There is little doubt in my mind that John Ed would have won his share of Gold Balls except for one little problem — he had to work on Sundays and all the National events had their finals on that day.
I’d say that’s a pretty good showing for someone who did not start playing tennis until he was a senior in high school. John Ed was urged to play tennis by Bill Calhoun, the Opelika Director of Parks and Rec. Bill was trying to get some great athletes to play tennis. John Ed fit the bill because he was an All-State basketball player for Opelika – an honor he achieved for three straight years in high school. Yes, John Ed was THAT good.
After high school, John Ed attended a junior college in Georgia where he played both basketball and tennis. Of course, he excelled in both. In tennis, with the proper training, coaching and competition, John Ed got good real fast. So good that he won back-to-back junior college tennis championships for the state of Georgia.
After junior college, John Ed transferred to Huntingdon in Montgomery for his final two years. There, he again excelled in both basketball and tennis. In basketball, John Ed set scoring records that held for many years. This is remarkable since he only had two years to set records, while other great players, before and after, had the advantage of a four year career. Yes, John Ed was THAT good.
In tennis, he played number one singles for the Hawks, and he never lost a match — he was undefeated for his entire two years at Huntingdon. That’s how good he was.
Of course, John Ed’s athletic accomplishments were not limited to basketball and tennis. Many athletes across the state probably didn’t even know he played those sports. They only knew him as the guy who won seven state racquetball championships.
In fact, if someone invented a new sport today, that required great athleticism, and told me I had one week to prepare and I could pick anyone to play it — I would pick this guy sitting right there – John Ed Mathison– because he WAS THAT GOOD!
In tennis, John Ed dominated his peers like no other. He was ranked number one in almost every age group throughout his career. He won 11 state championships in different age groups.
It was not another player that finally stopped him, but legs that just flat wore out from years of competing. I don’t know who is dominating the 70s right now, but whoever it is better be thankful for bad hips.
Now, I realize that being a great player is only one of the requirements for being inducted into this prestigious Hall of Fame. One must also be of good character, and demonstrate a willingness to give back to his community.
Here is the irony; John Ed’s many athletic accomplishments seem inconsequential when compared to his achievement outside the sports arena. When it comes to character and caring, John Ed represents the best of all us. In 1978, he was named the YMCA “Man of the Year”. In 2006, he was named Montgomery’s “Citizen of the Year”, the highest honor the City can bestow.
His recognition is not only local. In 1994, he was named “National Clergyman of the Year”, joining the likes of Billy Graham who have received this honor.
Under his leadership, Frazer Memorial United Methodist Church grew from 400 members to more than 8,000. Frazer was recognized as one of the fastest growing churches in America. In 2006, Frazer was awarded as being among the top 25 most influential churches in America, of any denomination. I’d say that is pretty good.
He has written seven books and is a nationally sought-after speaker. For many years, John Ed has served as platform speaker for the National Conference of Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
He has been very important in my life. He insisted on spending some time talking to me and Connie before he married us. He gave us some useful advice; advice we still try to follow today. After more than 30 years of a very happy marriage, I’d say his sage advice was pretty good. Of course, Connie likes to tell people, “we had 30 wonderful years, and then we met.”
To sum it all up, there are several men and women of great character in this Hall – I know many of them, AND there are many great players in this Hall – I’ve played against many of them. But, I am not sure you can find a better combination of those qualities than John Ed Mathison – because he IS THAT GOOD!
It is with pride that I introduce my friend – Dr. John Ed Mathison.