A Hall of Fame Family
This article was featured in the 2020 September/October edition of Inside Tennis Magazine.
The Texas Tennis Museum and Hall of Fame has seen a complete overhaul over the past decade. What had become a stale and outdated space is now a state-of-the-art institution in the heart of Waco.
While there have been several contributors to the renovations, none have been bigger than the Chaffin family. Jim and Mary, along with their daughter, Sara White, have gone to extraordinary lengths to make the museum an interactive and immersive experience for all ages.
“Jim and [his family] deserve so much credit for what they’ve put together,” says 2013 Hall of Fame inductee Ken McAllister. “When the Texas Sports Hall of Fame was built, tennis was the best part of it, but after a while, the tennis part started looking very old. That was until the Chaffins came along.”
Jim is a Texas Tennis Hall of Fame member, inducted for his many contributions to tennis which include serving as a USTA Texas President and member of the USTA National Board of Directors.
In 2011, while chairing the USTA Texas Strategic Planning Committee, Jim asked close friend Lee Hamilton to serve on the committee, while in turn, Hamilton asked Jim to serve on the Texas Tennis Museum and Hall of Fame Board of Directors.
Hamilton shared with Jim his plans to renovate and update the Museum and Hall of Fame, but passed away shortly after in 2012.
To honor Mr. Hamilton, Jim and fellow Hall of Fame inductee Courtney Henderson agreed to take the reins and see Lee’s vision to fruition.
“Courtney agreed to take the President position and the board elected me Secretary/Treasurer,” Jim says. “But they also said, ‘You’re the only one that really knows about Lee Hamilton’s plan, so what do you think about implementing it?’ I said, ‘Well I don’t have anything better to do.’ Then I realized, I didn’t know squat about museums and didn’t even really like going to them.”
This planted the seed for Hamilton’s plan. The group launched a capital campaign to cover the renovation costs and received an enthusiastic response from tennis players and organizations around the state.
Sara’s involvement began in 2014, when her dad called her up for help with the Museum and Hall of Fame’s website. “I realized there was a lot that I could do to help,” says Sara, whose background is in web design and digital marketing. “I tell people, in short -- I love Texas, I love tennis and I love history so it was really the perfect fit for me.”
Shortly thereafter, Sara completely redid the site, texastennismuseum.org and began promoting the organization through social media. Between Sara’s work online and the hiring of a museum renovation company, the pieces of Lee Hamilton’s vision started coming together.
And while the company did a great job of modernizing the look and feel of the museum physically, they didn’t know Texas tennis history as the Chaffin family did.
“Visitor expectations were not the same as they were when the original museum opened years ago,” Sara says. “It was important to us to give each exhibit proper attention and tie them together to tell a dynamic story.”
The big reveal of the updated Texas Tennis Museum and Hall of Fame came in November of 2015 at the induction ceremony for the new Hall of Famers. The Waco Tennis Association helped with the festivities by hosting a Family Play Day in the parking lot. On the inside, there was still work being done on the building, even at the last minute.
“They were finishing installation hours before the grand opening,” Sara says. They were gluing things down and putting it all together. We were excited to show off the space but nervous about it all coming together in time.”
“It was a pretty exciting night once it got going,” Jim says. “But literally when you know you’re opening the doors at 4:30 and like Sara said, the people were trying to finish, but it all worked out okay. Especially for the people who had seen it in the old days and the people from Waco, they were shocked. In fact, the people from the Texas Sports Hall of Fame said, ‘Well you all have really put the pressure on us, now we’re going to renovate to be up to your standards.’”
The night was a rousing success, as had been the renovation of the museum at large. When Waco hosted the USTA Texas Semiannual Meeting in July 2016, the Chaffins got another chance to impress, wowing all of the section staff and volunteers.
What makes their quick turnaround all the more impressive is that neither Jim nor Sara live in Waco. Jim and Mary live in Dallas, while Sara lives in Austin, making it a 90 minute drive for either to reach the Museum and Hall of Fame. That limits the family to around five or six trips to Waco a year, sometimes for board meetings and other times for a family weekend.
One of those days that the family visits every year is for the Museum’s Annual Banquet. Typically held at the end of the year, the night includes an induction ceremony for several of Texas’ tennis legends. Jim is the lucky one that gets to give the call to let them know they’ve made it.
“Most of the time, they know they’ve been nominated, but they have no clue when the selection is made,” Jim says. “We vote by secret ballot at a meeting that goes from 1-3pm, then I try to get back to Dallas by around 4:30pm to call the inductees and tell them.
“You wouldn’t believe the responses I get. Sometimes it’s dead silence. Sometimes another person will pick up the phone and say, ‘Who is this?’ and I tell them, then they say ‘My wife just broke down in tears. What did you tell her?’”
At each of these banquets, the Chaffins are able to show off all their hard work in the exhibits they have been putting together all year. Getting them to narrow down their favorite exhibit is not an easy task.
“That’s a tough one for me,” Sara says. “Andy Roddick recently donated his terracotta warrior statue which was commissioned by the ATP when he participated in the 2007 Masters Cup in Shanghai. It’s a great addition because he stands tall, greeting people as they walk in and is recognizable to so many visitors.”
Other choices included the original scorecard from the 1973 Battle of the Sexes match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, Olympian Randy Snow’s wheelchair and an exhibit that showcases great families in Texas tennis.
Although the renovation of the space is complete, it’s important to the Chaffins that the museum continues to evolve.
“We are always looking for new ways to teach people about the history of the game and its impact on social and cultural life,” Sara says. “We continue to update the exhibits in an effort to bring people back and attract new visitors.”
Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Museum had to keep its doors closed for several months, reopening slowly but seeing less foot traffic than normal. That hasn’t stopped the Chaffins from creating new ways to engage audiences.
“We’ve added several online exhibits and created a COVID-19 Digital Repository that focuses on documenting this unprecedented time in Texas history,” Sara says. “The project is aimed toward helping future historians learn how the Texas tennis community reacted to the pandemic which forced them to come up with creative ways to play at home. We also implemented educational scholarships to recognize and provide educational assistance to high school juniors and seniors while encouraging them to learn about Texas tennis history.”
While the Chaffins remain incredibly passionate about the Museum and Hall of Fame, upkeep of the building is taxing and time-consuming.
“We are always on the lookout for anyone who would like to help us with the museum,” Jim says.
“We really love our work,” Sara added, “but we know that in order for the Museum and Hall of Fame to be sustainable, it makes sense for it to be maintained by a broader group of people.”
To learn more about the Texas Tennis Museum and Hall of Fame, visit www.texastennismuseum.org
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