2022 MS Hall of Fame Inductee: Don Royer
Don Royer’s home could double as a tennis museum.
That’s what nearly 75 years of tennis history will do to a place.
“I started at Manheim Tennis Club in 1949, and pretty much every day ever since, I’ve thought about tennis,” said Royer, who continues to reside in Manheim. “I’ve collected a few things along the way, too.”
No collection of tennis memorabilia can showcase the mark that Royer has had on tennis in Middle States. But Royer is a great storyteller, and he’ll do his best to explain it.
The way Royer tells it, he discovered tennis as a teenager when he poked his head into Manheim Tennis Center.
“It happened to be that the best player at the club was playing that day,” Royer said. “He looked at me and said, ‘Hey, do you play tennis?’ I said I didn’t, because I didn’t have a racquet. So he said, ‘Well, here’s mine.’ I started playing and that was about it.”
Royer played for four years at Manheim High School before spending a year at Elizabethtown College. But then the Army called, leading Royer to the service.
While in the Army Royer met his wife, and he also played a lot of tennis. The Army had a team, and Royer was quickly a star. Based in Willow Grove, Pa., Royer was 44-0 in his two years on the team, which played all over the east coast.
It was a sign of things to come.
After the Army, Royer moved back to Manheim, and continued to play. He looked to the USTA for ways to compete in tournaments, finding early success. He also decided to bring even more playing opportunities to his hometown.
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While playing in the various adult categories, Royer began running local leagues
“Long before USTA League existed, Don was running premier competitive leagues and tournaments in Manheim,” said Tom Sweitzer, a teaching professional and tennis advocate who calls Royer his mentor. “For well over 50 years Don has organized tournaments and leagues, and made Manheim a premier place to play tennis for everyone, whether they are top players or new to the game. Tennis is better because of all the things Don has done.”
One of Royer’s biggest impacts came through organizing events. He founded and helped run the Paul Stern Tennis Classic in 1971, which ran for more than 20 years. He ran the Manheim Senior Open for 20 years, and later founded and coordinated the Walker Cup, which is still one of the most popular senior events in Middle States. He also coordinated leagues in and around Central Pennsylvania, while captaining interdistrict and intersectional teams.
“That’s one of the things I’m most proud of: organizing all of those tournaments and teams,” Royer said. “We did a lot, we tried to get people playing as much as we could. Of course, myself, I also loved playing.”
Another proud moment? His induction into the Manheim High School Hall of Fame.
“Between that and now this, the Middle States Hall of Fame: it’s something that when you start playing, you never think you’ll get that far,” he said. “This is like icing on the cake.”
Playing every chance he had, Royer achieved No. 1 doubles rankings in the men’s 35s, 45s and 55s. He held top-five rankings in many singles categories during the same time frames.
On the doubles side, Royer mentions his tennis partner and good friend, Bill Loercher. Loercher and Royer were doubles partners for 25 years, winning countless tournaments and traveling around the country together.
“I worked at a plant here in Manheim for 42 years, and almost always worked until 3 p.m.,” Royer said. “Many times we had matches scheduled in Philadelphia at 5:30. So I’d work my shift, get out of work, and Bill and I would drive to Philly. We played just about everywhere over there. We also had our fair share of trips out to Pittsburgh. A lot of drives around Pennsylvania and well beyond that.”
In his older years, Royer continued to play and follow the sport. He stepped off the court three years ago, at 84, and hung up his racquet.
“I still look out there and think, ‘Hey, I beat that guy 20 years ago. How is he still playing?’ Royer said. “I get a little jealous when I see people playing. But I’m happy for anyone who can be on the court. I still love to watch, I still love to be anywhere near a tennis court.”
Jay Witmer, a Middle States Hall of Fame inductee who has spent decades organizing play in Central Pennsylvania, speaks well about Royer’s playing days and his volunteer work.
“When I think about Don Royer I think of a historian,” Witmer said. “He’s been a stalwart in Manheim, and we call him the commissioner of tennis. He’s usually there every day of the week watching play and making predictions. There aren’t a lot of people like Don. He’s given a lot to us as a sport.”
“He’s had a timeless sense of volunteerism, and a relentless commitment to our events,” said Mary Wurtz, Manager of Adult Competition at Middle States. “Because of Don, countless Middle States players can participate and enjoy these historic events for years to come. What’s most outstanding about his generosity is that it was all delivered with his hallmark characteristics of gentle, humble kindness.”