Middle States

Hall of Fame Inductee: Wilson Pipkin



Spend some time with Wilson Pipkin, and something quickly becomes clear: for Pipkin, almost everything ties back to tennis and family.

 

It’s for that reason that Pipkin, with 35-plus years at Hempfield recCenter in Landisville, Pa., has built such a strong tennis community in and all around Central Pennsylvania.

 

“Every year, no matter how long I’ve been involved, I continue to have fun with tennis,” Pipkin said. “There’s always a new challenge. There’s always someone else to meet, and something else to try. And every step, family has been there with me.”

 

Pipkin is known well in the Central Pennsylvania area for running the Koser Jewelers Tennis Challenge — a USTA Pro Circuit event that’s grown exponentially over the last 15 years. But his impact on the sport goes far beyond that.

 

Pipkin first connected with tennis as a young boy in Texas. At 7 years old, he’d go to the local high school and hit balls against the wall. There were days he wouldn’t allow himself to go home until he hit enough balls in a row, without missing a shot.

 

There was no money for lessons or court time. Instead, Pipkin found other ways to develop within the sport.

 

He made some friends to hit with, and began stringing racquets at Shellingham Tennis Ranch. That earned him some money, and created relationships that helped shape his teenage years.

 

“None of us had money to train, so we’d get together and play however we could,” Pipkin said. “We’d train hard. We’d stick together and organize workouts, and long runs. My kids might not believe that I used to run, but believe me, we did.”

 

It was at Shellingham that Pipkin met Feets Shelton, who managed the club and also coached the high school team.

“Feets was really my tennis mentor,” Pipkin remembers. “He and the people at the club, they took me under their wing. In a lot of ways that became my home.”

 

“I’ll always remember Wilson for being a hard worker,” said Shelton, who still lives in Texas. “We had some good, hard-working kids involved with us back in that time. Wilson was one of the best.”

 

It all led to Pipkin having a standout high school career, which then led him to Arkansas State. He spent summers playing tennis, coaching and working with community tennis programs. Then after college graduation, Pipkin got his lucky break.

Always humble and honest, Pipkin jokes that it all came about from a bit of a lie.

 

“I remember we were working on resumes, learning about how to interview and how to pursue jobs,” Pipkin said. “I didn’t have much of any experience, and I already had a job lined up for that summer. But I saw a job advertised for a pro in Peoria, Illinois, and really I just wanted to see if I could get an interview. So I put a resume together and sent it in. I didn’t think anything of it until a couple weeks later when I got a call.”

 

The call, in a nutshell, was to offer Pipkin a job. His resume was the best that club had on file, they said, and they wanted him on site.

 

The one problem?

 

“Other than my name, phone number and address, everything else on that resume was a lie,” Pipkin laughed.

 

So Pipkin turned down the job. He then took another phone call from Gary (confirm last name), the owner of the club. Even coming clean about his resume, the two talked.

 

“He said to me, ‘Can you be here in Peoria tomorrow?’ And that was it. I packed up, worked that job for two years, and that’s when I got the call from Hempfield about another job.”

 

That job at Hempfield came about in 1985, and turned out to be a true life-changer. Pipkin has been with the organization ever since, serving as a leader in its growth.

 

Pipkin immersed himself in tennis, but also began building his family. He and his wife, Jennifer, had three children: Madison, Chase and Hannah. The kids grew up around tennis, but also participated in other sports. Pipkin didn’t force his kids into tennis, which he believes is the reason each of them continues to play and enjoy the sport today.

 

“Almost everything I do at the club, the family has had some involvement,” he said. “Whether it’s helping at special events or doing hours of work each summer for our Pro Circuit, they always help out and stay involved. I’ve been really lucky in that tennis has helped strengthen our family and bring us even closer together.”

 

As Pipkin’s family grew, so did tennis in Central Pennsylvania — especially at Hempfield.

 

“Back when I started we were a small membership, with maybe 600 or 700 members total and six or seven USTA League teams,” Pipkin said. “We now have 5,000 members club wide, with 120 teams each year. It’s funny because I look back on it and remember how busy I thought I was.”

 

Hempfield now has one of the country’s strongest league programs. It’s also home to the Koser Jewelers Tennis Challenge, a $100,000 Pro Circuit event that runs each August. The tournament began 15 years ago as a $10,000 event and has steadily grown ever since.

The event is one of the most popular stops of the year for players, with many top competitors returning year after year. Pipkin is known well amongst the players for going out of his way to make the experience great, and that’s led to many friendships with players that last long past each tournament date.

 

“He’s what I would call a ‘players tournament director,’” said Missy Malool, a former USTA Tour Supervisor. “The players absolutely love him, because he makes the week special. He’s approachable, he cares about how they are doing. He gets to know what they are all about and truly cares about them. You don’t get that out of a lot of people but it’s a testament to how great of a person he is.” 

 

“The Pro Circuit is an incredible amount of work, and I can’t imagine anyone who could do it better than Wilson,” said Ben Zislis, Executive Director of USTA Middle States. “Each year we see the tournament, and the organization grow. Add that to all Wilson does for our tennis community in Middle States as a whole, and it’s hard to think of someone who has done more for our sport than Wilson.” 

 

That includes volunteering far outside of Central Pennsylvania. Pipkin credits Jay Witmer for getting him involved with USTA Middle States. The duo made up a strong doubles team at the time, and Witmer was highly-involved with USTA volunteerism.

 

“He was the one who motivated me to get involved,” Pipkin said. “I did it just to give back, and worked my way up.”

 

Pipkin became President of the Central Pennsylvania District, and eventually began serving on the Middle States Board of Directors. He was Middle States President from 2019-20, heading up numerous committees and special projects along the way. He also got involved with projects at the USTA National level, and served in leadership positions with the United States Professional Tennis Association (USPTA).

 

Pipkin says that one of the highlights of his career came in 2019, when the Pipkins were named USTA Family of the Year. Pipkin was also recently inducted into his high school’s sports Hall of Fame. He and his father are the only father-son duo to have both received the honor. 

 

Now inching toward the 40-year mark at Hempfield (and with USTA involvement), Pipkin still finds ways to get excited about work each day.

 

“I enjoy it so much when someone new comes in, and we get to see them go from beginner all the way to their first match or their first big event,” he said. “It could be someone who’s 55 or 60, and it doesn’t matter. That feeling of watching them grow and improve is electric. Every day I’m out there, that continues to excite me.”

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