Late tennis pro inducted into Miss. Tennis Foundation Hall of Fame
MERIDIAN, Miss. (WTOK) - Former Meridian Community College tennis coach Wanda McPhail first met Rod Hartzog in the ’80s when he was working as the tennis pro at Northwood Country Club.
“Rod was making things happen at Northwood and I started going to tournaments that he was having there,” McPhail said. “Him and I had a love-hate relationship at first because he was this tennis pro that gave lessons and I was self-taught. He would harass me but I would always harass him back.”
McPhail kept in touch with Hartzog throughout the years. In 2001, she was hired by MCC to be the new tennis coach and often sent her players to learn from Hartzog.
“Rod was one of the few people who would just want my kids to come out and play without ever charging them anything,” McPhail said. “He really truly loved tennis more than anyone that I have ever been around.”
According to the Mississippi Tennis Foundation’s website, Hartzog played tennis at Meridian High School and graduated from the school in 1969. He then went on to play tennis at Ole Miss on scholarship.
Bruce Clopton, who was younger than Hartzog but played tennis at Meridian with his sister Nancy, said he would play with Hartzog when he came home from college on the weekends.
“The Meridian Raquet Club used to be at the old high school tennis courts, and that was first time time getting to see Rod play and actually play with him,” Clopton said. “I was kind of in awe of him. You knew his name and had seem him play so getting to play with him made me even more in awe.”
After graduating from Ole Miss, Hartzog was hired to be Mississippi State’s new men’s tennis coach at the age of 24, which made him the youngest men’s tennis coach in the SEC. He then went on to coach internationally in places like Italy, West Germany and Sri Lanka before returning to Meridian in 1983 to become Northwood’s tennis pro.
“I think a lot of young, when they grow up, can’t wait to get away from home. Then they get out there and realize home is a special place,” McPhail said. “I think because Rod grew up here, his family lived here and so many of his tennis friends were here that he just wanted to be back home.”
In 2018, Hartzog died at the age of 67. According to his obituary, he passed away in Memphis after battling a “lengthy illness”. Two years after Hartzog’s death, the Mississippi Tennis Foundation inducted him into their hall of fame.
Even though Hartzog is not alive to celebrate the honor, McPhail and Clopton are celebrating the honor for him by bringing to light the positive impact he had on the tennis community in Meridian.
“I’m so glad that he was able to be recognized this way because to me, he epitomizes so many things that are Mississippi tennis,” McPhail said “In those days when he was teaching out at Northwood, junior tennis was big here (in Meridian) because of him.”
“It’s a wonderful honor,” Clopton said. “They don’t put a lot of people in the hall of fame so for him to be in it is a tremendous honor”
Along with playing tennis, Hartzog loved spending time with his dog Tiriac (named after Romanian tennis player Ion Tiriac) and his three horses Paco, Valdez and Jose.
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