You cannot live and play tennis in San Diego without running into someone with a story about Maureen Connolly. During my 17 years there I had the pleasure of often speaking with legendary coach Ben Press, a childhood friend of Maureen, who always had great stories about her and many other celebrities. I always encourage people to visit the Balboa Tennis Club and check out the Maureen Connolly Brinker Tribute Wall and Walkway, a permanent and spectacular 6-foot concrete panel supported within a large wooden structure.
I'm all about preserving tennis history. Unfortunately, very few young tennis players have ever heard of Maureen Connolly, Althea Gibson, Arthur Ashe, or going even further back in time, Helen Wills, Suzanne Lenglen, and Bill Tilden. We need to honor and preserve the memory of those former giants in the world of tennis.
Long before there was Chrissie, Steffi, Monica, or Serena, there was Mo. Whoops, make that “Little Mo.”
By Bill Simons
A bright beam—fresh and lustrous—Maureen Connolly effortlessly emanated an unmistakable zeal when she swept across the then-dreary, often crusty, tennis horizon.
Tired old ways and ho-hum wannabes beware. Here—with a certain Federerian grace and a Connors-like will—was the perfect athlete at the perfect time.
For America in the ‘50s was eagerly distancing itself from the ravages of depression and war. Welcome to a brave new world of full fridges, fast Chevys, and heady suburban swagger—patios and plastics and pools. Success was…well, success was everything.
And Mo had it.
A little-known urchin who began with a $1.50 racket on San Diego’s humble public courts, she emerged with a glint in her eye and a bounce in her considerable step. She was nothing less than a fresh injection of wonder, willing her way to nine Slam championships in the nine majors she entered between 1951 and 1954. Her joyous ways, zealous desire, and fine shots shouted, “Here comes a new age!”
In the early ‘50s, tennis had a compact wonder: California’s “Little Mo.”
She was petite. She was cute. She was a charmer.
“It is touching and reassuring,” wrote the London author and editor Alison Adburgham, “that this teenage girl, already at the pinnacle of world fame, should find delight in little things, in little cats with smiles, in furry poodles with sequin eyes, in dainty birds with fly away wings which quiver as she runs.”
But don’t be fooled.
Mo was steel. When she was just two points away from suffering a horrendous Wimbledon defeat, some fan—an Air Force flyer up in the stands—yelled out, “Give ‘em hell, Mo!” She turned to the kid, whispered “thank you,” and promptly morphed herself into a juggernaut who went on to claim her first title at the All England Club.
When a Time magazine headline announced, “Tennis Has a New Queen,” Mo duly struck a pose. When she wanted to counter her Catholic ways and eat meat on Friday, the Pope relented: Here’s your special dispensation, Mo. When she played in Rome, riot police were deployed to prevent mayhem. Her pre-Wimbledon airport arrivals became media theater.
Mo attracted flashbulbs and inspired newsreels and headlines. Seventeen photographers showed up for her first English practice. One hundred media members came to a press event.
She’d call her own press conferences, or ask reporters, “Hey boys, are you getting what you need?” Tennis historian Ted Tinling noted, “Many post-war journalists had never met a tennis star, and this was the beginning of the public’s involvement in the real personality of sports performers … the forerunner of today’s accepted media routine.” All the while, fans from West London to East Hampton got what they wanted. Little Mo was the ticket.
For all of their stunning success, many a women’s tennis star has been haunted by cruel acts, accidents, or disease. Helen Wills Moody’s career ended when a German Shepherd bit off her finger. A leg injury and a car accident devastated Tracy Austin. Psychological demons shadowed Jennifer Capriati. Monica Seles was stabbed. Venus Williams suffers from Sjögren’s Syndrome. Serena stepped on a glass and then was nearly killed by a pulmonary embolism.
In contrast, Connolly’s fate seemed dreamy. A gifted athlete, the San Diegan—who rode the bus to Beverly Hills every weekend to take lessons—became the No. 1 junior in Southern California when she was just 13.
Maureen Connolly Brinker
Teen Phenom With Nerves of Steel
by Rich Neher
For the longest time, I've been wanting to write about "Little Mo" Maureen Connolly. As a fan of older tennis legends, I was always in awe of her accomplishments. Who knows how many Grand Slams this young "Gladiator of Tennis" could have won had it not been for that cement truck that cut her career short at age 19. And to spin that thought even further, considering how many tennis stars win slams in their thirties, is it far-fetched to conceive that MCB could have easily been the GOAT of all of the tennis world if cancer hadn't ended her life at age 34?
I want to thank a number of people who have contributed to this article or allowed me to repost their commentary and writings. Foremost, Bill Simons, Publisher of INSIDE TENNIS. Also, Roy Barth, Carol Weyman, Cindy Brinker Simmons, Brenda Brinker Bottum, Dick Doss, Aleece Schwalenberg, and Colleen Farrell.
I want to start with just some basic dates for a better understanding of the milestones in MCB's 34 years on this earth evolved.
Maureen Connolly Brinker
Born September 17, 1934.
San Diego Coach Wilbur Folsom started coaching her in 1944.
San Diego sportswriter Nelson Fisher calls her "Little Mo."
Eleanor Tennant took over as coach in 1948.
At age 14, she wins 14 consecutive matches and becomes US National Champion in 18s and under.
At age 16 she wins US National Championships in 1951.
Wins first Wimbledon title 1952.
Hired Australian Davis Cup Captain Harry Hopman as new coach 1953.
First woman to win calendar Grand Slam (1953). Lost only one set in those four tournaments.
Won all nine (9) Grand Slam Championships she played (1951, 1952, 1953, 1954).
Wimbledon singles champion (1952, 1953, 1954).
Won the last nine Grand Slam singles tournaments she played, including 50 consecutive singles matches.
Voted “Female Athlete of the Year” by the Associated Press (1951, 1952, 1953).
Ranked #1 in the world (1952, 1953, 1954).
Played on the Wightman Cup Team (1951, 1952, 1953, 1954).
A horseback riding accident abruptly ended her career (July 1954).
Married Norman Brinker (June 1955). They had two daughters, Cindy and Brenda.
Published an autobiography titled Forehand Drive in 1957.
Inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame (1968).
Co-Founded the Maureen Connolly Brinker Tennis Foundation (1968).
Died in Dallas, Texas at age 34 of cancer (June 21, 1969).
Maureen Connolly Brinker Elementary School opened in Plano, Texas (1988).
“Little Mo” Forever stamp issued (April 2019) .
A (very) used copy of MCB's autobiography sells on Amazon for $851 on November 6, 2020.
Victories and trophies piled up, and by 1951, the “killer in pigtails” was the youngest player ever to win the US National Championships (aka the US Open). In 1952, she took Wimbledon and defended her US title. Then, in 1953, she became the first woman to capture the Grand Slam: all four majors in one year. Amazing. Never, before or since, has sports seen such a teen phenom.
But Mo’s triumphs were built on a tangled base of heartbreak, angst, anger, and military intent. Her father, a Navy Commander, jumped the family ship when Mo was just four. Her mother, a failed concert pianist who lived her life through her daughter, was long a problematic parent. Her stepfather wanted Connolly to quit tennis, while Mo herself feared that if she lost a match no one would love her.
What a mess.
Yet the result of it all was a fiery drive based on what Mo herself dubbed a “hate complex.” She recalled losing a match to an older foe, Ann Bissell, at the age of 10. “I was no ordinary little girl,” she wrote. “And tennis to me … was much more than just a game. Defeat was unendurable; it could not be talked away by the sympathy of an understanding parent. It must be avenged! Beating Ann Bissell became my single goal in life.”
Connolly went on to beat her nemesis and soon sought out the storied Beverly Hills coach Teach Tennant, who had worked with such greats as Alice Marble and Bobby Riggs, as well as snazzy stars like Carole Lombard. Teach was an unflinching disciplinarian and superb architect who brilliantly crafted careers. Mo wrote that to Tennant tennis “was never a game, it was a battle, and no field marshal mapped strategy more carefully … She was the field office, I the troops, and we went into action with deadly purpose … Her confidence was a living, glowing thing … and she had the magic power of being able to transfer it. Lose was not a word in her tennis vocabulary. Teach believed everything in my life should be sublimated to tennis.”
Whimsical jaunts to the bullfights in Tijuana were a cause for crisis. Any thought of Mo actually getting that pet horse she so craved was, of course, out of the question. And God forbid if Mo has the temerity to hang out with her fellow players. After all, Tennant only fueled Mo’s ferocity by demonizing her foes. As Mo wrote later, “Tennant contributed to my hate complex, but there was fertile soil for the seed. She believed one should not make friends with opponents … I translated this into hating my foes. Miss Tennant … had no idea a seed of hatred would flower in my breast with such a dark bloom.”
The most infamous example of these motivational shenanigans came before the 1951 US National final, when Tennant concocted the notion that Doris Hart felt Little Mo “was a spoiled brat” and was gunning for her in the final. Mo fell for the ploy, later confessing, “I never hated anyone more in my life! I turned on her like a tiger.” (By the way, Jimmy Connors’ mother always insisted her son “Get those tiger juices flowing” on court.)
But eventually, Mo would turn on Teach too, making a high-profile announcement at the 1953 Wimbledon that Tennant was now history. Gone was the supposed wicked witch of the west, the inspired, yet oppressive taskmaster with all her rules. Joy and freedom now held sway. Connolly teamed up with Aussies Nell and Harry Hopman, traveled the world, fell for a seaman, played for the love of the game, and at last could indulge her longstanding passion for horses.
After winning her first Wimbledon victory in 1951, the Junior Chamber of Commerce and other San Diegans had given Mo a horse. When Mo won her third straight Wimbledon in ’54, all she wanted to do was to get back to see her two loves: her man, Norman Brinker, and the horse, Colonel Merryboy.
On July 20th, 1954, 19-year-old Mo went out for a ride on Friars Road in Mission Valley that was jolly and benign until a speeding concrete truck came careening around a curve. Colonel Merryboy got spooked, swerving into the truck’s path, and in one horrific moment, a storied career was shattered. One of Mo’s legs was broken and all the muscles in her 19-year old calf were severed. She tried to recover. But it never happened. A dominant force in her teens—winning six Slams in a row and all nine Slam events she entered—would never hit another ball on the circuit.
Instead, Mo married Brinker, moved to Dallas, went to Southern Methodist University, had two wonderful daughters, coached, wrote, became a restaurateur, and launched a superb tennis charity, the Maureen Connolly Brinker Foundation.
It was cruel enough that a magical career—brimming with historic promise – was destroyed in a flash. But only 15 years later, Maureen “Little Mo” Connolly succumbed to cancer. She was just 34 years old.
Our collective memory is filled with the inspired figures that left far too early: Mozart, Gershwin, Marilyn Monroe, the Kennedys, Martin Luther King, and Steve Jobs come to mind. As for tennis, no other meteor had flashed so brilliantly, only to vanish so suddenly.
Swoosh, that was it. Much like when Bjorn Borg retired at 26, when Seles was stabbed, or when Arthur Ashe passed away, fans were left grasping at straws and coping with questions.
How come the young star, with so much to lose, even risked mounting a horse?
What went wrong with her recovery? These days, wouldn’t she have been able to go back on court after a while? Or was there far more involved in her never returning, including a Kim Clijsters-like desire to start a family? If Mo had gone on playing, wouldn’t she probably have turned pro, perhaps nudging tennis into becoming an Open sport far sooner than 1968? And Mo was a lefty. So what would have happened if Tennant hadn’t insisted she play right-handed?
With her clean, deep groundies, her laser will, her uncanny ability to raise the level of her game and her ongoing sense of serenity, Mo collected most all of her nine Slams with devastating ease. (Only her 1953 Wimbledon final against Darlene Hard was a classic battle.) She pulverized virtually all her foes. But if her career was longer, would the African American Althea Gibson (whose right to play in previously all-white tournaments Mo fiercely defended) or the Brazilian Maria Bueno have threatened Mo’s dominance?
Billie Jean King noted, “It was sad Maureen had to retire so early, because we don’t know how many more major titles she could have won. It would have been great to see her compete against Tracy Austin or Chris Evert, or even at the other end of the spectrum against Martina Navratilova.”
Mo still remains a part of the debate about the top ten players of all time. But now, on the 60th anniversary of her Grand Slam, we are left to wonder: If Colonel Merryboy hadn’t been freaked out by that cement truck, would Mo be front and center in the biggest conversation of women’s tennis? Along with Steffi Graf, Navratilova and Serena, would she be in consideration as the greatest of all time?
Instead, all we can do is look back at the most glittering 1000-day career in sports history: a long ago, but still sublime, window of wonder when charm, charisma, athleticism, and beauty joined together to offer a promise that knew no horizons. Still, beyond all those inspired memories, was something else. After all, Mo’s ultimate legacy was to leave us pondering that most perplexing of all questions: What if?
Letter from Aleece Schwalenberg
I live in Texas in the Dallas Metroplex. When I moved here in the nineties I was married and had 3 young children. I was a stay at home mom looking for an athletic outlet--I was a high school athlete of the very competitive kind. A friend directed me toward tennis as 'it's a lifelong sport!' So I went to our local tennis center and took some lessons and played some in their leagues. Not long after I started playing I met another mom with kids my kid's ages who played in this league called TCD. She invited me to be a sub on her team and that was my introduction into what I now know to be Tennis Competitors of Dallas, a league formed in honor of Maureen Connely Brinker. Little Mo may have come from California but she settled in Texas. Her legacy lives on in the league founded in her memory in 1977. This league serves the Dallas Metroplex and has now branched into a Ladies League, Mixed League, 50+ league, 60+ league, and most recently a Pickleball league. The Brinker family is still actively involved with TCD.
“I’ve got everything I want. Everything I’ve had, I got through tennis,” Maureen Connolly Brinker wrote in her autobiography. “It gave me a terribly exciting life. I met so many people in exalted positions. It opened so many doors and it’s still opening them. I’ve had a wonderful life. If I should leave tomorrow, I’ve had the experience of 20 people.”
I have always believed greatness on a tennis court was my destiny, a dark destiny, at times, where the court became my secret jungle, and I a lonely, fear-stricken hunter. I was a strange little girl armed with hate, fear, and a Golden Racket.
Roy Barth needs no introduction. A man who works for 41 years as Tennis Director at one of the most recognizable Golf& Tennis Resorts, gets around the world of tennis and makes his mark with industry and organizations. When I approached Roy to talk about the MCB passage in his book POINT OF IMPACT, he wrote back referencing his journey in tennis, "A big part of that journey happened in San Diego where I grew up developing my tennis game. I was very fortunate to have taken lessons from Maureen from ages twelve through fourteen.
Not only she influenced my tennis game that stayed with me throughout my tennis career, she also taught me life lessons that impacted me for the rest of my life."
Roy wrote about Wilbur Folsom under 'Lessons from Legendary Coaches' and went on to describe how Maureen came into the picture and his interactions with her.
In 1943, eight-year-old Maureen Connolly walked by her neighborhood tennis courts and stopped to watch two pretty good 12-year-old players hitting. She asked if they would hit with her for a few minutes when they were finished. They declined. In tears, Maureen moved on to the next court and watched Wilbur Folsom giving a lesson. Wilbur noticed Maureen, handed her a racquet, and asked her if she wanted to try to hit balls back to his student and then help pick up the balls after the lesson. In return, he agreed to pay her 5 cents and teach her some basics of the game.
Eight years later, at age 16, Maureen won her first of three U.S. Championships (now US Open) singles titled.
Roy and his sister Patty took lessons from Maureen and describes how she loved two sports - tennis and horseback riding, He continues, For three years, Maureen built on the foundation that Wilbur instilled. She taught me to direct the ball with my hand because "where the hand ends up is where the racquet ends up, and thus where the ball ends up."
She taught me to hit under pressure: "Speed up your swing rather than slow it down when you get tense. She taught me the importance of a dedicated work ethic, stressing that I should never let up in a match no matter what the score. "If you ease the pressure on your opponent, no matter how far ahead you are, they can always come back and beat you."
One of Maureen's signature talents was "moving after hitting." All the film clips of Maureen playing show her feet in constant motion. She taught me to not only move my feet when the ball is in the air coming toward me, but also after I hit the ball. A common response to pressure situations in a match is to stop moving the feet. She said if I felt nervous - which I always did - concentrate on keeping my feet moving.
Maureen emphasized that it's not how long we practiced, it's how efficiently we practiced. She would rather me practice for two hours with purpose and intensity than four hours with neither.
The most enduring lesson I took from Maureen was her insistence that I remain a "nice person," even if I beat an opponent badly. Playing to win and being a respectful opponent were not mutually exclusive.
The year she moved to Scottsdale, Maureen invited my father and me to spend a weekend with her to work on my game. She never hit the ball right to me and ran me so hard I threw up. She made me learn how to hit on the run so I would be prepared for tournament competition. That was the last lesson I took from Maureen.
In 1966, Maureen was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. In October 1968, eight months before she died, Maureen came to my sister Patty's wedding looking radiant as always and lighting up the room.
Maureen died on June 21st, the first day of the 1969 Wimbledon tournament. She was 34. I was in London that day playing at Wimbledon. The next day, the newspaper headline read "Little Mo Dies." A televised movie of Maureen's life, entitled Little Mo, aired on NBC in 1978.
Read my review of Roy Barth's book POINT OF IMPACT here.
Retired tennis champion Ted Schroeder played partners with Connolly in mixed doubles at La Jolla in 1950, when she was only 14 years old. He recalled her unyielding determination to win. Schroeder's recollection of Connolly was quoted in 1998 by ESPN's Tom Farrey, "There's only one way to describe her-as an assassin … She was one of the nicest people you'd ever meet, but on the court, boy she went at it."
On the occasion of Maureen's posthumous induction into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame on March 20, 2019, the organization wrote, quoting her daughter Cindy:
“Mom was what many would call a tomboy,” Brinker Simmons said.“ She was feminine but very athletic, so gifted athletically that she often played sports with the boys.”
Little Mo’s competitive streak stood out as plainly as her swing. In her first competitive tournament in 1945, a 13-and-under event in La Jolla, Calif., Connolly played well enough to reach the final before losing to an older girl, Ann Bissell.
The result didn’t sit well with Maureen.
“I was no ordinary little girl, and tennis to me, even then, was much more than game,” she wrote in her 1957 autobiography “Forehand Drive.” “Defeat was unendurable. It could not be talked away by the sympathy of an understanding parent. It must be avenged! Beating Ann Bissell became my single biggest goal in life.”
Maureen started winning tournaments but didn’t face Bissell again until the next year. In that match, a highly motivated Little Mo pulled no punches in taking down Bissell in straight sets, 8-6, 6-2.
At the 1951 U.S. Open in Forest Hills, N.Y., she cut through all comers like a buzzsaw before outlasting Shirley Fry, 6-3, 1-6, 6-4, in the final. Suddenly, at age 16, Connolly was the youngest U.S. Open champion in history.
What’s more, she was just getting started. Connolly never lost another Grand Slam event in which she entered.
I had contacted Maureen's daughters Cindy and Brenda for a quick interview about their mother.
TCB: You were 10 when your mom passed away. You never really saw her compete on the international stage. What was she like in private family life?
Brenda: While I knew she was accomplished in the tennis world, I did not realize until later in life how truly successful she had been on the tennis court as she didn't talk about it to us. We had players stay with us from time to time to work with Mom but as a young child you are, I think, more focused on your own friends and passions. To me, she was just Mom. She, like our father and me, loved horses and we were lucky enough to have a few in a barn behind our house. My favorite memory was riding the horses with Mom and Dad on trail rides to a large lake near our house. She loved being on the horses and it was just a special time for us.
I think Mom was a wonderfully devoted wife, mother, and friend and she loved hosting backyard barbeques and parties for neighbors and friends and business associates. She particularly loved helping our father when he was launching his restaurant career. She was so excited about helping to develop the concept and decor of his first restaurant chain, Steak & Ale. She and Dad had a great partnership.
When she passed away, Dad, Cindy, and I decided that her headstone should say:
Maureen Connolly Brinker
A Gallant Lady
Cindy: I had absolutely no idea that Mom was famous! She was so quietly humble it took your breath away! I thought the Wimbledon trophies were just table decorations! It wasn’t until a little neighborhood friend of mine down the street told me she was famous that the truth was revealed. Mom loved being Mrs. Norman Brinker and the mother of two energetic and busy little girls with demanding school and sports activities. I forgot to take my lunch one day to a new school Brenda and I were attending after a move mid-year across town in Dallas. Mom had not yet met my teacher, Miss Barnes. With brown paper sack in hand, she knocked on the door of my third-grade class to give my lunch to Miss Barnes and apologized profusely about interrupting the class. Miss Barnes, who is today my very good friend, was overwhelmed and speechless at seeing Mom, her sports hero, so tenderly focused on being a loving mother who cared deeply about her forgetful little girl not going hungry for lunch. Mom always put aside her tennis fame and treasured most the role of adoring wife and mother. Dad, Brenda, and I always fondly described Mom as a remarkable person who just happened to be a very good tennis player.
Mom discouraged me from playing tennis but the sport was in my DNA, and I started taking lessons when I was 10. Frustrated by my inability to hit the ball over the net, I asked Mom if she stopped taking tennis lessons when she was #1 in the world. I thought that was a great question! Gently, she put her arm around my waist and drew me close to her saying, “Honey, the day I would have stopped taking tennis lessons would have been the day I would have stopped being number one in the world.” Mom communicated to me a lesson of a lifetime…that you must never stop learning, improving, and developing your craft. There is always room for growth even if you are the best in the world in your abilities.
She had a sparkle and smile that was mesmerizing. Mom’s laughter was so infectious. Dad said whenever she entered a room, people’s heads turned because there was just a sense that someone special had arrived. Her presence was so magnetic, and her warmth radiated from the inside out.
Brenda and I never knew Mom had cancer. She was the room mother on one of my class day trips. She was so fun, active, and happy to be on that outing. We were in California at the time, taking advantage of the good weather for Mom’s health. All my classmates and their mothers loved her. Little did I know she was plagued with pain during that entire day but she never showed it because she wanted to be a room mother who interacted with her sixth-grader. She passed away months later.
TCB: They say Maureen was such a fierce competitor, she had a "laser will" and "nerves of steel" with an on-court personality that was completely opposite her private persona. Would you know how to explain this?
Cindy: Mom was “Little Miss Poker Face” and used her unwavering determination, laser focus, and steadfast composure on the court to her competitive advantage. She approached every match wanting to win and was relentless in her discipline, practice regimen, and resolve that contributed to her being world champion. However, we have to remember she was just a teenager during her tennis years! From 1951-1954, she won every Grand Slam singles championship she entered before a horseback riding accident abruptly halted her tennis career at age 19. Off the court, she was just like any 1950s teenager…she loved music, was boy crazy and liked to shop.
Maureen Connolly exhibit at Balboa Tennis Club in San Diego (Morley Field)
She treasured her girlfriends, cherished animals, and studied hard. She loved soda pop, dancing, and writing notes. Mom was a typical teenager off the court and wanted to be seen as just a normal young girl who wanted to have fun! She had a very magnetic personality that was reprogrammed on the court with a ferocious concentration and single-minded purpose to win. But, once she stepped off the court, her teenage joy would transform her back to her likable, personable, and animated self. That was always Mom’s true personality.
TCB: Unfortunately, most young tennis players nowadays have very little knowledge and patience for the "old stars." How are you upholding the legacy of your mother?
Cindy: In 1968, Mom and her dear friend Nancy Jeffett established the Maureen Connolly Brinker Tennis Foundation (MCB) to help further develop and grow junior tennis. MCB gave travel grants to promising young juniors and, through the years, created a yearlong circuit of junior tennis tournaments culminating in the “Little Mo” Nationals and three international tournaments. These tournaments to this day attract the gifted and talented young players from ages 8-12 and, in some tournaments, MCB has added the “Big Mo” age categories, ages 13-16 years. The “Little Mo” tournaments are known for their strong competitive value but also fully promote the importance of character attributes like good sportsmanship, fair play, kindness, integrity, giving back, and gratitude. Kindness and Sportsmanship awards are presented to players demonstrating those qualities. The tournaments are also fun with player parties and first-round gift exchanges in our regional, national, and international tournaments.
Mom was most interested in developing players who were champions both on and off the tennis courts. Brenda and I are very involved with MCB to help perpetuate Mom’s astounding legacy so that the young players participating in our tournaments will know and appreciate the life and career of “Little Mo.” Brenda is the vice president, and I am the president of MCB. We travel to the “Little Mo” tournaments and talk about Mom in the opening ceremonies. We visit with the players and their families throughout the tournaments. The materials presented to the players at tournament check-in have important information on Mom.
Through the good work of Carol Weyman and Matthew Cody, our professional team at MCB, and through Brenda and I remaining very active with the foundation, we are continually striving to create opportunities for optimal and favorable coverage of Mom. The MCB website is full of articles, photos, videos, and film footage about Mom. The United States Postal Service issued the “Little Mo” Commemorative FOREVER stamp last year, which was another tremendous opportunity for Mom’s legacy and impact as a pioneer in women’s tennis to be showcased to a watching world.
TCB: Next year it'll be 70 years since she won her first US National Championships. In 2023 it'll be 70 years since she won the first big Grand Slam as a female. Are there any plans to commemorate your mom's achievements?
Cindy: At this point, we have not planned anything for next year. Sadly, MCB had to cancel its tournaments this year due to the limitation of COVID. MCB is currently focused on re-scheduling its 30 “Little Mo” tournaments for 2021. We will probably do something closer to the US Open in 2021. MCB will definitely commemorate Mom’s 70th anniversary of her historic calendar Grand Slam achievement in 1953. For the 50th anniversary celebration of MCB in 2018, we had a lovely event at the iconic West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills and dedicated a large plaque in Mom’s honor that is situated on the stadium court. Stay tuned for 2023…!
TCB: Thank you, Cindy and Brenda.
Recollections of Maureen Connolly
By Richard “Dick” Doss
I first saw Maureen on the courts of Morley Field hitting tennis balls with two of her friends, Patsy Zellmer and Diane Kosteel. I asked if I could hit some with them. Maureen very emphatically and quite definitely said, "I don't think you are good enough." Most of us at Morley had group lessons with Wilbur Folsom, the local tennis pro. Maureen had a private lesson.
I have no memory of Maureen ever losing a set to any of the local girls. When Eleanor "Teach" Tennant became her coach, she only played men. Teach lined up all of the better male players in San Diego. In my junior and senior year of high school, I was fortunate enough to be included in that list and played Maureen every Wednesday afternoon for two years. She also played Ben Press, Bob Galloway, and several other male players.
I can't remember if we were juniors or seniors in high school, Maureen and Patsy Zellmer and Ron Hendry and I went to Los Angeles to play in the Southern California Junior Championships held at the Altadena Town and Country Club. Maureen and Patsy were staying at the Huntington Hotel and Ron and I were put up in private housing. Ron knew that Maureen loved to dance and talked Maureen and Patsy into sneaking out of the hotel and going with us to the Hollywood Palladium to dance to Les Brown and His Band of Renown. We pulled it off and got the girls back to the hotel in time for their curfew.
The last time I saw Maureen was in 1953 at Forest Hills where we both played in the National Championships. I was beaten in the second round. She won the tournament, the final step of her grand slam. My clearest memory of Maureen as a player is that when she walked on the court a mysterious transformation took place. She went deep inside herself in some kind of reptilian trance. She hated to lose and it wasn't going to happen.
I like to compare Maureen Connolly with Helen Wills. Although Wills had her legendary tennis championship run 20 or so years earlier than Maureen and lived to the age of 92, both had quite a few things in common.
Born in California
Started tennis at 8
Practiced against Men
Was a Teen Phenom
Played like a Gladiator
First Slam won at 16
Match play state of mind: Reptilian trance, laser will, nerves of steel
Born in California
Started tennis at 8
Practiced against Men
Was a Teen Phenom
Playe like a Gladiator
First Slam won at 17
Match play state of mind: Laser will, poker face, nerves of steel
We were lucky to connect with Carol Weyman, Executive Vice-President at the MCB Tennis Foundation for a quick interview.
TCB: Carol, how old were you when you started playing tennis in Shreveport, and who got you into it?
Carol: I was 12 years old. My parents played tennis and signed me up for summer group tennis lessons and I loved it immediately.
TCB: How would you describe your junior years in tennis up to then later playing for LSU?
Carol: I loved playing on the C.E. Byrd High School tennis team. Not only was it fun being on a team but we were able to win the Louisiana State High School State Championship all three years ('72, '73, '74), and my partner and I won the Louisiana State High School Mixed Doubles title the same three years. It was exciting to win and travel as a team to nearby cities. (Just to let you know that I played in the sorority league and for recreation in my college years - not on the LSU tennis team.) I was Head of the Tennis Department at Camp Waldemar during the summers while at LSU.
TCB: What made you decide to become a USPTA certified pro and teach at the Village Center in Dallas?
Carol: I received my Education degree from LSU in 1978 and moved to Dallas in 1979. While waiting for a teaching job, I wanted to teach tennis lessons and clinics. I lived in the Village and the Village Tennis Center was nearby. The John Verde Tennis Company/Strokemaster was located in the Village and I started selling tennis equipment nationwide in addition to teaching tennis. I wanted to have the USPTA certification to teach and also to meet other teaching pros at USPTA conventions as potential customers for tennis equipment.
TCB: After 7 years of working for the World Championship Tennis Circuit, you were recruited by the MCB Tennis Foundation. How did this come about? Did you know Maureen Connolly as a junior? Had you ever met her?
Carol: The MCB Tennis Foundation owned and organized the Virginia Slims of Dallas. They needed a Tournament Director and I was hired in July 1989. Maureen passed away in 1969 and sadly, I never had the opportunity to know her.
Young Coco Gauff plays "Little Mo" tournaments
TCB: Was the expansion of the ‘Little Mo’ brand to Nationals, Internationals, and Slam your idea? How did you come up with it?
Carol: It was my idea to create the "Road to the Little Mo Nationals", the Internationals and the Slam. In creating the Road, I just thought about what I enjoyed as a young tennis player: the friends, the fun, the trophies, the travel, the challenge of tennis. I combined that with my experience as a camper/counselor at Camp Waldemar in Hunt, Texas. The camp is still the gold standard of excellence and I wanted to create a similar experience with the "Little Mo".
When I was hired in 1989, the "Little Mo" was a "Texas only" event. After we sold the Virginia Slims of Dallas, I was named Executive Director of the MCB Tennis Foundation and my new focus was on junior tennis rather than pro tennis. I thought it would be great for the younger players across the USA (ages 8-12) to have tournaments that were based on fun, good sportsmanship, and competitive matches, Players would play their own age: 8s play 8's and there would not be any ranking points. The "Road to the Little Mo Nationals" was created for players to play at the sectional level and then the top 8 players from each age division would advance to the regional level. The top 4 players from each age division at the Regionals would advance to the "Little Mo" Nationals. The top 16 players in ages 8-12 comprise the draws at the Nationals - a total of 160 of the brightest future stars in American tennis. Not only were we providing an opportunity for players to play at the local level, the Road offered an opportunity to bring the talented players together at each level to improve their skills and meet others who have the same level of skill. At the Nationals, we were able to identify players who are the best in the USA at a young age, i.e. Coco Gauff, Ryan Harrison, Andy Roddick. Many other pros and collegiate players have come through the "Little Mo" these past 23 years. Also, I added to the "Little Mo" tournaments some of the fun aspects from the Slims pro event like opening ceremonies where players parade on-court carrying their state or country flag, player parties, etc. Also created the idea of colorful 'mo coins' that umpires have in their pocket to give to players for good sportsmanship. They trade in their coins at the "Little Mo" booth for prizes. Another idea the players enjoy is the gift exchange whereby they bring a small gift ($10 or less) to their first-round opponent and the gift represents their home state or country. The players meet a new friend on the first day.
The idea to name it the "Road to the Little Mo Nationals" was from my years working for World Championship Tennis. The professionals played on the "Road to the WCT Finals" which was held in Dallas. (The pro players advanced by points through many tournaments worldwide and the top 8 played in the Finals.)
In 2006, I realized the USA players needed to have international competition in order to see different styles of play, and the "Little Mo" Internationals was created. It also provided an opportunity for players to meet players from other cultures and develop new friendships. To increase awareness of the event, we sent entry information to the 200 tennis federations around the world. (Borna Coric and Belinda Bencic played in the first event.) We moved the event to Florida since most of the young players from other countries come to Florida in December. It has been a very popular event worldwide with over 500 players from 60 countries at the "Little Mo" Internationals last December. In 2012, we added the Internationals in New York at the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills, and in 2013, we added the Internationals in Colorado which is now in California.
In 2013, we were celebrating the 60th anniversary of Maureen Connolly winning the calendar Grand Slam and I thought it would be fun to create a similar challenge for the young players. If a player can win all three "Little Mo" Internationals in one year, they win the Slam. They also take home the 6' trophy - the tallest trophy in junior tennis. (When I went to the trophy shop to decide on the award, I saw a lot of other sports trophies that were very tall and I knew the kids would love it. (Back to the theme of what I would have liked as a young player..I would have loved to have had it in my room!) Also, the 6' trophy is a great motivator and it gives them something exciting to aspire to and the motivation to keep working hard.)
Maureen Connolly had no joy of winning. But she had a deep, deep fear of losing.
Unknown British Tennis Fan
Coco Gauff visiting "Little Mo" participants today
TCB: What are your challenges as executive MCB’s Vice President? What are all the programs you are running?
Carol: There are many challenges but my main focus is to continue to be creative so our tournaments continue to be fun and competitive for the young players. Youngsters have many more options these days and so it is important to continue to provide the best experience possible so they stay in the sport. We need more youngsters exposed to tennis at an early age as it is the most wonderful sport for a lifetime.
We run 20 Sectionals, 4 Regionals, Nationals, and 3 Internationals per year.
TCB: MCB is one of the largest private junior tennis foundations in the world, if not THE largest. Where do you go from here? What are your future plans?
Carol: We would like to expand internationally to bring the "Little Mo" experience to more players worldwide. We are also creating the "Little Mo" Club so players can connect with each other online, share their memories, news, etc. We are also looking for corporate sponsorships so we can continue to provide quality tournaments for players and award more travel grants. We are happy to send a powerpoint or discuss options: firstname.lastname@example.org
Andy Roddick and Ryan Harrison
TCB: Are we doing enough to preserve the memory of Maureen Connolly Brinker? What do you think should be done to inspire the future generation of kids with her achievements? Especially kids that are not fortunate enough to come through the ‘Little Mo’ ranks.
Carol: The MCB Tennis Foundation was founded in 1968 and for the past five decades, we have introduced Maureen and her accomplishments to many generations. She is most recognized as the first woman to win the calendar Grand Slam (1953) and she is still the only American woman and youngest (age 18) to have accomplished this magnificent feat. Her career was only three years and was cut short due to a horseback riding accident. There was a movie made about her life in 1978 starring Glynnis O'Connor, Mark Harmon and Leslie Nielsen. This movie brought alot of attention to Maureen and her life. To view the movie, go to mcbtennis.org and click on Tournaments and scroll to the popcorn box. It is a wonderful, inspirational movie for the entire family. It would be great if this movie was shown on tv again. Through our "Little Mo" program, players learn about Maureen as well as her competitive spirit and outstanding sportsmanship on and off the court. Maureen was recently honored with her own postage stamp.
We want all kids to have the opportunity to play tennis and advance to the next level. We offer travel grants to help players attend tournaments to improve their game and we also offer complimentary tournament entries to deserving players through the NJTL program.
TCB: Thank you, Carol.