Culver Military Academy’s return to the state tennis finals has rekindled an interest in the history of the sport at Culver and the Academy’s role on the national tennis scene of the 1920s into the 1940s; and its central role in launching Indiana’s state tennis tournament in the 1960s.
Tennis was part of Culver’s campus life as early as the 1890s. The school’s small, high-demand courts north of State Road 10 were seeing regular play by the early 1900s. But the construction of five concrete courts along the lake shore (near where the Naval Building is today) in 1922 changed Culver tennis dramatically.
Tennis became a varsity sport in 1924. Four years later, Superintendent Leigh R. Gignilliat put history instructor and Rhodes Scholar Jim Bishop in charge of Culver hosting the Boys Junior National Tennis Tournament, which the Academy did through 1942.
Bishop became an integral part of what became the Western Lawn Tennis Association, including serving as its first president “west of the Potomac.” He also helped shape the U.S. Davis Cup teams that dominated the sport through the 1940s. This was in addition to being responsible for the boys national each year.
In 1943, with World War II priorities consuming Culver, the boys national tournament was moved to Kalamazoo, Michigan. But during its years of hosting, Culver’s courts saw play from the likes of Bobby Riggs, Don Budge, Ellsworth Vines, Jack Kramer, Budge Patty, and Ted Schroeder. Tennis legend Bill Tilden, the greatest American player of the early 20th century and world No. 1 from 1920-1925, visited the Culver courts for exhibition matches in 1928 and 1937.
Bishop, meanwhile, remained at the forefront of American tennis even after the move, though his life was cut short in 1961, not long after his retirement from Culver, when he was killed in a car accident. His legacy, though, would leave another permanent mark on tennis, this time across Indiana.
In the spring of 1963, the town of Peru hosted the first Col. Bishop Memorial Tournament, an event which planted the seed for the Indiana High School Athletic Association to begin boys high school tennis state championship competition.
Culver Military Academy hosted the next year’s two-day tournament on its relatively new courts (1953) near the intersection of State Roads 10 and 117. By its third year, the Col. Bishop tournament had become widely known in Indiana high school tennis as the state championship. Five years after the Col. Bishop tournament began, the IHSAA started offering the “official” state championship.
Tennis became a Culver Girls Academy varsity sport in 1975, and during the ensuing years the team won 14 sectional championships, six regional titles, and three semi-state crowns, which led to three appearances in the state finals.
The CMA team has played in eight state finals, claimed 13 regional victories, and won 28 sectional titles, including the past 14 in a row. That is in large part to the stabilizing factor of having just two coaches over the past 48 years: Colin Stetson and Alan Loehr. CMA’s Sam Concannon ’16 won the 2015 IHSAA state singles title and was runner-up in 2014. He is the only Culver Academies player to achieve that distinction in the history of the singles tournament.