Hall of Fame Inductee: Don Mercer
Donald Mercer (1938-2022)
Don Mercer grew up in Wheeling, W. Va. as a sports-loving kid, playing baseball and basketball. Most days you could find him hitting tennis balls on the wall with his baseball bat, until one day at 10 years old, when he swapped his bat for a racquet.
Little did he know at the time: that switch changed his life.
“A lot of what we have in our local community, in Mt. Lebanon, and the South Hills area of Pittsburgh is due to all of the hard work he put forward,” said Deb Hazlett, a longtime tennis volunteer who serves on the Middle States Board of Directors. “The foundation that Don Mercer, with the help of his wife Beth, set for tennis was incredibly important to the growth of tennis.”
Mercer first learned the sport from his father, an accomplished player himself. He and his father, Loran, enjoyed playing together — a trend that continued for much of his childhood and life. So while he spent many of his teenage years playing baseball and basketball, tennis was always there.
While working at the Oglebay Park tennis courts as a high schooler, he decided to take a few additional lessons, and tennis became more serious. Just months later, he became the West Virginia Junior Champion in the Boys’ 18s, which led to interest from local colleges.
In 1956, Mercer received an academic and athletic scholarship to Wheeling College (now Wheeling Jesuit University [WJU]), where he played basketball and tennis all four years. He also helped establish symphonic and pep bands for the Cardinals. Music played a large role in Mercer’s life and is just one more gift that was handed down from his father.
Mercer piled up accolades in basketball and tennis, winning the conference championship in tennis and also being an active participant on the basketball court. The basketball side of things gifted Mercer with prime bragging rights as he once shared the court with West Virginia University’s star player (and future NBA legend), Jerry West.
Mercer was later inducted into the WJU’s Hall of Fame. He received the Wheeling Jesuit University Distinguished Alumni Award, and was named to the WJU Hall of Honor.
After graduating, Mercer attended the University of Pittsburgh where he received a master’s degree in biochemistry and later earned his doctorate in the same field. While working toward his degrees, Mercer married his wife Beth. Together the couple had three children: John, Tom and Ron.
Through it all, Mercer continued to develop his tennis skills, along with groundbreaking scientific research. He worked as chief biochemist of Montefiore Hospital’s pathology department in Pittsburgh, where he began lab experiments to develop a blood test to help detect heart attacks. Mercer developed and patented the CK-MB Isoenzyme Test that is still considered the benchmark for detecting heart attacks worldwide, four decades later.
Later, Mercer was inducted into the Wheeling Hall of Fame in the Business, Industries and Professions category for his pioneering work as a biochemist. Mercer’s father received the same honor in the Education and Religion category 17 years prior.
The father-son connection was a trend, as Mercer and his father also found success together on the tennis court.
“My father always wanted me to have a strong forehand, because he favored the backhand side,” Mercer laughed. “Ever since we began playing, I always felt like he had that plan for me, so we could become a better doubles team.”
Mercer and his father played in a number of tournaments together. The duo won the Pittsburgh Public Parks Tournament as unseeded players, and made history as the first father and son to ever win the tournament. The two later competed in the West Penn Championships. Mercer played doubles with his father while competing in singles, acting as the tournament’s official referee, and serving as the Operations Chairman.
Fully committed to his tennis, Mercer achieved No.1 rankings in Men’s 45s and Men’s 60s. Mercer also partnered with Jack Wright to dominate tennis in West Virginia throughout the 1960s and 1970s. The pair won the West Virginia State Championship Tournament at Oglebay Park five times, the West Penn Open four times, and the Edgewood Invitational seven times.
Mercer’s talent, work ethic and varied involvement in the tennis world made him a well-known name in the tennis community.
While he enjoyed his time on the court, Mercer eventually immersed himself in community tennis in the hope that his sons would take to the sport he loved. His sons played baseball, soccer, and basketball – initially showing little interest in tennis. So in an effort to spark their interest, Mercer began a unique tennis program called Mt. Lebanon Team Tennis. While the program was the ticket to getting his children involved, it also produced many top players in the area.
Due to the program’s success, Mercer received the Community Service Award from the USTA and later went on to win the President's Award for Allegheny Mountain District (AMD).
As his children grew, their involvement with tennis never faded. Neither did their father’s. Mercer became Chairman of the West Penn Amateur Tennis Tournament and Founder and Chairman of the Men’s Futures Tournament in Pittsburgh, utilizing his business contacts and relationship building to take the event to the next level.
The Mercer family’s involvement and innovation did not go unnoticed. Beth was always an integral part of Mercer’s tennis life, with her great organizational skills and hard work ethic. The family received the Family of the Year Award twice. In fact, tennis continues to be a major part of the family. His sons all received tennis scholarships and found great success with the sport, including through playing, coaching and running events. They continue to be involved with tennis, still today. Meanwhile, four of Mercer’s grandchildren are ranked nationally, with the two eldest grandchildren playing Division I tennis.
The Mercers competed in numerous Father-Son tournaments throughout the years. Their accolades include achieving rankings of No.1 and No.3 nationally and in Middle States, winning titles at many events locally and across the country.
Mercer won three Gold Balls, which is a coveted honor for tennis players of all ages. One came with son Ron at the National Grass Court Tournament, and two with son Tom at the National Indoor Tournament.
Even with all of his tennis accomplishments, Mercer said his career highlight is the Father-Son titles he earned with his three sons. Generally, Mercer’s sons held the backhand post, like their grandfather before them.
Many describe Mercer as having been a humble man. He had much to brag about, but you rarely heard a boast come out of his mouth. (Unless you got him talking about Jerry West, of course.)
His professional and personal accomplishments made the world a better place.
“We are all really proud of his accomplishments,” Hazlett said. “People are really appreciative in the tennis community for what he brought as far as programming and directing the West Penn Amateur Tournament.”
As a tireless volunteer and advocate for the game of tennis, Mercer lived his life coming up with ways to make things better. He was an innovator. His ability to engage with others, his passion for a game he began playing against the wall in Wheeling, and his love of family came through in everything he did.
Right up until his final days, Mercer continued to show excitement when talking about tennis.
“His legacy is indescribable,” Mercer’s eldest son, John, said. “He’s impacted thousands upon thousands of people.”