Induction into the International Tennis Hall of Fame is the ultimate honor for players. Now the iconic institution has made history of its own: It is the first sports hall of fame to achieve accreditation from the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), which is the highest national recognition available to a museum.
There are an estimated 17,500 museums in the nation, and just over 1,000 are accredited. The honor solidifies the Newport, R.I.-based Hall's status as a national treasure while giving it a greater platform for growth.
"We are the first sports museum to be accredited so it's an incredible achievement and certainly one of the greatest honors our museum has ever had bestowed on it," Doug Stark, who has served as the International Tennis Hall of Fame's Museum Director for five years, told TENNIS.com. "It really speaks to the commitment of the International Tennis Hall of Fame. It means that we have credibility and accountability with funders and with other museums when we want to loan or borrow objects. It means we have set a very strong foundation for ourselves and it lays a much stronger foundation for what we want to accomplish in the future. It's a tremendous achievement."
To earn accreditation, a museum first must conduct a year of self-study, then undergo a site visit by a team of peer reviewers. AAM’s Accreditation Commission, an independent and autonomous body of museum professionals, review and evaluate the self-study and visiting committee report to determine whether a museum should receive accreditation. The process took three years to complete.
"The museum is the heart and soul of the International Tennis Hall of Fame. It is the one and only tennis hall of fame in the world, and in the museum we work diligently to preserve the history of the sport and inspire its future," International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum chairman Christopher Clouser said. In celebration of the honor, the Hall of Fame is hosting on open house on Saturday for all Rhode Island residents, who will receive free admission by simply showing valid proof of residency at the entrance.
Tennis is a game of motion and some of its greatest champions are in full flight in images inside the Hall of Fame. Don Budge looks eager to leap off the wall in striking his signature backhand; sweat seems to pirouette from Evonne Goolagong's pores as she glides forward for a volley, and Andre Agassi draws a captivated crowd as he recounts in a video speech his realization that the greatest power a champion can wield is the power of choice.
Covering Agassi's induction into the Hall of Fame two years ago, I saw the reverence champions and their families have for the Hall. Watching Agassi's parents, Mike and Betty, tour the exhibit devoted to their son's career the day before his induction, the joy, pride and sense of wonder was etched on their faces. Moments later, Arthur Ashe's wife, Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe, walked into the Hall of Fame after arriving from New York City with memorabilia from her husband's career for an exhibit, which included his 1975 Wimbledon trophy, 1984 Davis Cup trophy, a congratulatory telegram from Jackie Robinson to Ashe following his 1968 U.S. Open win, and a letter from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in which King expressed his “personal appreciation for your support and solidarity in the fight for social justice, freedom and dignity for all the people in this country.”
Grass is the only surface in the game that grows during the course of tournament play. History is alive and thriving at the Hall of Fame, the birthplace of American tournament tennis, where visitors are encouraged to engage with the game as active participants by playing on one of the Hall's 13 grass courts, its one clay court, or its indoor hard courts.
"We have a diverse offering and that appeals to people on many levels," Stark said. "People can come and take a tour all day. We also offer an audio tour of the museum that is available in 10 different languages. During the summer, we offer two public tours a day to both the museum and the grounds. And then of course, visitors are always welcome to play on our grass courts, which is a very special experience as many tennis players and fans from all over the world have never played on grass before. We are the only professional-competition grass courts open to the public for play. So it's truly a wonderful opportunity for visitors to go out and play on the same grass courts the pros play on, they can hit with one of our teaching pros as well and sit and watch the International Tennis Hall of Fame Championships."
The Hall of Fame Tennis Championships will be held July 8-14. The Enshrinement Ceremony for the Hall of Fame's Class of 2013 will be held on Saturday, July 13th. Former No. 1 Martina Hingis, Australian tennis great Thelma Coyne Long, and former players and long-time industry leaders Cliff Drysdale, Charlie Pasarell, and Ion Tiriac will all be enshrined.