The men’s tennis program at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga has a storied history of championships and excellence. The Mocs celebrated past began with George Dickerson’s 1966 NCAA Singles Championship. It continued with a run of All-Americans in the late ‘70s that spawned the dominant program in the Southern Conference during the 1980s.
Rob Castorri (1974-77) was one of those All-Americans who helped set the table for the 12 SoCon Championship cups in UTC’s trophy case. He will be honored next week as one of five inductees into the UTC Athletics Hall of Fame.
Before the Mocs joined the SoCon in 1978, they competed as a Division II team in the Tennessee Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. They rolled through that league each year from 1973 to 1977. Castorri was an MVP performer in four of those five seasons.
Castorri teamed with Haroon Ismail to create a force in the NCAA College Division doubles competition. They were twice named All-Americans, advancing to the quarterfinals as sophomores in 1975 and the semifinals as juniors in 1976.
The funny thing is that the first All-American honor was news to the talented Mocs.
“All of a sudden we came back from our sophomore year in Colorado and we were told we were All-Americans,” stated Castorri. “We got to the round of eight and since that was the quarterfinals, you were an All-American.”
Something unique to the time was each team that finished in the top eight got a chance to travel to Corpus Christi, Texas, and take part in the Division I tournament.
“We were told ‘Hey guys you get to go to be in the NCAA Division I tournament in Corpus Christi. The next year we made it to the semifinals and we knew that time we were All-Americans.”
Typically, the accomplishments of Hall of Famers are well documented. It is the little-known back stories and experiences that brought them to Chattanooga, or took place after their time at UTC, that are the most interesting.
In Castorri’s case, it was the relationships that steered him to the Scenic City. A native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Castorri played high school tennis at Cardinal Gibbons with Park Lockrow, who was a year ahead of him in school. Lockrow came to Chattanooga in the fall of 1972 and started to convince Castorri to take a look at UTC.
At the same time, Bill Tym, one of the top teaching professionals in the country, joined the Chattanooga staff. At Lockrow’s encouragement, Tym started corresponding with Castorri about competing at the collegiate level for the Mocs. A copy of one of the first letters Tym wrote to Castorri is below.
“Park Lockrow and I played high school tennis together,” explained Castorri. “He said that they could use someone like me and he put me in touch with Bill Tym. We met and talked over a Strawberry Sundae at the Howard Johnson Hotel. I remember that very vividly because he impressed me so much as a coach and a pro. I knew then and there that I wanted to work with him and let him try to develop my game.”
That was a very wise choice for Castorri, who has been involved with tennis since graduating with a degree in Business in 1977. He spent the first seven months out of college on the professional tour, moving into the top 500 in doubles and top 600 in singles in the world rankings. Then he started a long and successful career as a teaching professional, club manager and event coordinator.
He once beat Boris Becker when he was a teaching professional in Germany. This was just before Becker won Wimbledon as a 17-year-old, but was already one of the top players in Europe. He also recently served as the Executive Director of the Ivan Lendl International Junior Tennis Academy in Fort Lauderdale.
Despite all of his professional successes, he still looks back fondly on his time at UTC. “I think the highlight was having the honor of playing for a guy like a Bill Tym and being in a town as beautiful as Chattanooga,” said Castorri. “That’s where I met my wife back in my freshman year of college. That whole time is incredibly special for me, and it set the tone for my career.”
Castorri and the rest of the UTC Athletics Hall of Fame Class of 2014 will be inducted on Friday, March 29. The banquet takes place at the Chattanooga Country Club, beginning at 7:00 p.m. The event is open to the public and is $30 per person for the dinner. Contact the UTC Alumni Office (423-425-4785 – www.mocsconnect.com) for more details, or to reserve a seat.