Yeronga State Primary School Tennis History
Some of the games all-time greats have graced the courts at Yeronga State Primary School. From the legends Rod Laver and Ken Rosewall to Jimmy Shepherd and Lexie Kenny, these courts have played a role in tennis history and been stepping stone to the hallowed ground of Wimbledon.
On April 18th, 1959 six tennis courts were opened just inside the school grounds at Yeronga State School on Honour Avenue. Yeronga State Prmary School’s Head Teacher, from 1951 to 1962, Mr. Lionel Stevens encouraged tennis play on the grounds and Yeronga ruled Brisbane in Tennis!
One student recalled hearing “the huge crash of timber as the gum trees were cut down to make way for the new tennis courts” on the corner of Park Road and Honour Avenue. Her classroom was closest to the noise which she recalled lasted for many days.
The school received a great boost in the sporting arena with the opening of these tennis courts. The Johnny Fern Sports Store donated a new racquet and other benefactors donated money and sundry equipment. White Wings Pty. Ltd. donated 4 dozen packets of flour for the opening of the new courts (presumably for cakes on the cake stalls). Paul’s Food donated an ice-cream cake for the occasion and Wormald donated a Cup, called the Wormald Cup which was to be presented to the best tennis player at Yeronga State primary School each year.
Two years later, in 1961, Yeronga State Primary School was to be host to the first test against New South Wales in tennis. Yeronga State School was clearly a leader in the State thanks to the motivating force of Mr Stevens. Mr. Kendrick was the tennis coach at the time as well as the Grade 4 teacher. All 6 tennis courts were in use in the mornings, at lunchtime and afternoons. During this time Yeronga won many grade Championships.
Some of the better players in the 1960’s also included Peter and Lew Brennan, Bevan Quellhurst, David Coppich, Big John Abel, Tony Ickiewicz, Helen Abou, David Gartshore, Keith Nugent, Wayne Green and many others.
In 1962, 1963 and 1964, three girls from Yeronga were selected to play in the Bruce Cup against New South Wales. This meant that half the girls’ Queensland team came from Yeronga State School!
The three were Alexis (Lexie) Kenny, Sandra Smith and Mary Perkins. Lexie went on to become the Australian Junior Champion in 1968 and subsequently played Wimbledon. Jim Shepherd, another young pupil and future coach of Rod Laver, also played at Wimbledon in the early 1960’s.
Past students recalled how in having 6 courts “nothing could stop us”. They also remembered clearly having a young Rod Laver and Ken Rosewall visiting school for coaching lessons and demonstrations. That day has been etched into the minds of those present.
Inter-school tennis competitions were introduced by voluntary teachers in the 1970’s. During this time 2 more tennis courts were constructed to provide girls with more sporting opportunities as prior to this sport had been very male-oriented. The new courts also provided additional facilities for all members of the school community.
From 1993, Principal John Johnson was known to appear at the tennis courts during the finals and one ex-student interviewed maintained that whenever Mr. Johnson appeared she became so flustered trying to please him that she always missed the ball!. “he must have thought that I was terrible”, she lamented.
Today, the legacy of Yeronga State Primary School tennis is carried on through the energy and enthusiasm of a new breed of player and coach, strongly supported by Principal Debbie Spanner. The white clothes and wooden racquets are seldom seen nowadays, but there are still dreams of following in the footsteps of those that played on these courts in their storied past. Rise Tennis is proud to continue the tennis tradition at Yeronga State School.
*Special thanks to Ros Gillespie Ph.D and her book “Boggo, Yeronga and Beyond: Leaving Footprints – Making Pathways” for the information above.