Wiedmer: Guerry, Gilbert finally in

Wiedmer: Guerry, Gilbert finally in

May 18th, 2012 by Mark Wiedmer in Sportlocal

Chattanooga's Zan Guerry

Photo by Matt Fields-Johnson

Gibby Gilbert

The news first arrived in February. Chattanooga sports greats Gibby Gilbert II and Zan Guerry would be officially inducted into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame this Saturday in Nashville.

To which your humble scribe instantly thought: Aren't the Scenic City's G-men already in? And if they're not, WHY NOT?

"I had begun to think I wasn't going to get in," said the grand golfer Gilbert, he of the three career PGA Tour victories, the six Senior Tour wins, a tie for second at the 1980 Masters and a stunning record of making the cut 92 percent of the time.

"But I always dreamed about it. When I got the call, I was thrilled."

So was Guerry, the Rice University grad who entered the ITA Collegiate Tennis Hall of Fame two years ago.

"It is very meaningful," said the 63-year-old Guerry, whose late father Alex also is in the Tennessee Hall, which is located inside Nashville's Bridgestone Arena.

"I played in my first tournament 50 years ago. When I think about why I'm being inducted, it helps me remember what a great game tennis is and what it's meant to my life -- the friends I've made, the travel, the unforgettable experiences. It really is a game for life."

Of the Tennessee Hall of Fame's 415 current members by induction -- another 180 are in as honorees of one kind or another rather than official members -- Gilbert noted, "I really don't know if Chattanooga has been represented well enough in the past."

Yet the list of those already in from this region is undeniably impressive, with such as the late Reggie White, Red Etter and Scrappy Moore plus Rick Honeycutt, Tommy Bartlett, Steve Sloan, Catherine Neely and Guerry's former Baylor School teammate, Roscoe Tanner, among others.

That still doesn't explain why Gilbert and Guerry aren't joining their state hall until 18 years after it was created in 1994.

Not that the 71-year-old Gilbert ever took the easy road to anywhere.

"I got out of Qualifying School in 1967 and never looked back," the University of Chattanooga grad said. "I wasn't real flashy out there. But I played pretty good every week."

The way he saw it, he didn't have a choice.

"I had a family to support," he said. "We drove from tournament to tournament. We stayed in cheap hotels. We ate lots of McDonald's. You had to watch your pennies."

Yet he also says he wouldn't trade those days for today's million-dollar paydays.

"The guys on the Tour, we were a family," Gilbert noted. "We had conversations out there. If some guy hit a bad shot, we'd joke about it. We were brothers. You look out there now, a lot of those guys don't even talk to each other."

Gilbert expects to have at least 10 members of his biological family at Saturday night's induction; Guerry, probably no more than half that.

"When I got in the college hall of fame, we had a lot of family there," Guerry said. "But I think we're all kind of scattered this weekend. It's still a very big moment."

How big have Guerry's best moments been? He was probably the best junior tennis player in the country for much of the 1960s. While at Rice, he once beat Stan Smith when Smith was the nation's No. 1 player. He beat John McEnroe in a U.S. Open qualifier in the mid-1970s. He played Jimmy Connors at center court at Forest Hills.

He's even played a few rounds of golf with some pretty fair players, including Matt Kuchar -- the winner of last week's Players Championship -- Luke List and Harris English.

"I see all those guys playing so well these days," said Guerry, who then chuckled, "maybe they got some tips from me."

What he hasn't yet done is play 18 holes with Gilbert.

"But I'd like to," he said. "I've certainly admired his career."

Better late than never, the rest of the state can now admire both men's athletic careers when they visit the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame.