Wiedmer: Scenic City may never see another tennis player and person the equal of Wes Cash

Staff file photo / Chattanooga tennis great Wesley Cash counts 21 USTA national championships among his court honors. He starred at Baylor School, never losing a match in singles or doubles in four years as a prep player, before going on to the University of Georgia to earn All-SEC recognition.

The cellphones of Jack Webb and Pem Guerry have been ringing nonstop for more than a week. More than 200 calls total had arrived by weekend's dawn, all of them voicing concern for their great and dear friend Wesley Cash, who's struggling mightily to overcome esophageal cancer.

"They're trying to limit the visits to 15 to 20 minutes each because so many people want to check on him, just tell him how much he's meant to their lives," Webb said Thursday. "There's easily been more than 100 visitors, and Wes hasn't said no to anyone."

They are coming from everywhere. Last weekend, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga tennis player George Jarck drove all the way from Charleston, South Carolina, to spend less than 30 minutes with Cash. Bill Tym, who once coached Cash in his rigorous junior development program at Manker Patten before going off to run the Vanderbilt tennis program, has been making the 4 1/2-hour round trip from Mt. Juliet, Tennessee, four or five times a week to sit with Cash.

"This is a very deep and emotional situation for me," the 82-year-old Tym said Friday. "It's really hit me hard. It's hit all of us hard. Wes was one of my first students. He's become a colleague and a friend. He's really an extended member of my family."

There were a bunch of them in those early Tym summer programs. Cash. Guerry. Jack and Scotty Webb. Eric Voges. Check the records and you'll see they all became college stars at the Division I level. Check the records and you'll find Cash was the best of the best.

"Wes may never have won Wimbledon or the U.S. Open," Tym said. "But I always told my kids, 'Just be the best you can be.' Nobody maximized their ability or potential more than Wes Cash."

Now 64, Cash has more hardware than Ace. He has won 21 USTA national championships total, either as a high school player at Baylor or as an adult in age-group play, including several national doubles titles with Zan Guerry.

Said Pem Guerry, his doubles partner at Baylor, where the pair were the top-ranked prep doubles team in the country: "Wes was a good junior player and a better college player, but he really hit his peak at 45. He's become a fantastic senior player, and I'm sure he's won more total national titles than anyone who's ever played tennis around here."

No one has better stories about Cash than Guerry.

There was the time the two took dates to an Earth, Wind & Fire concert and, according to Guerry, "Wes apparently thought I was flirting a little too much with his date. He dumped a big cup of Coke and ice in my lap."

On another occasion, when the pair were touring Argentina, Cash, a voracious reader, had brought along a large collection of books.

"Near the end, Wes was reading 'Shogun,' and it's like 1,400 pages, and I kept asking him when he was going to finish so I could read it," Guerry recalled. "Finally, he got so tired of me asking that he tore the book in half, handed me the first half and said, 'Here, read this.'"

photo Staff file photo / Jack Webb, left, and Wesley Cash compete as doubles partners during a tennis match at Manker Patten.

Webb can tell you that this intensity has almost always carried over to the tennis court, even when he and Cash have merely been practicing together at Manker Patton.

"Every now and then we'll just be hitting, and people will walk by the court and I'll say, 'Hi,' maybe a really quick conversation, just a short greeting," Webb said last week. "Wes will look across the net and say something like, 'Quit being a mayor. Let's focus.'"

Then again, over the bed where Cash rests these days is a plaque that states: "Some people dream of success while others wake up and work hard at it."

One need look no further than Cash's 88-year-old mother Louise to understand Cash's passion for that statement. A single mother for most of her son's childhood, Louise worked two and three jobs to make the money necessary to send Wes to Baylor and pay for his tennis lessons.

Said Tym: "Louise is the one who made it all happen for Wes."

And Cash has always made sure to let her know how much he appreciates her. Wrote her husband Brainerd Cooper in an email this week about Cash's determination not to let such unconditional love and effort go to waste: "(Hard work) may have been part of (Cash's) DNA from the beginning. The little boy who never gave his mother any trouble. A latch-key kid who came home from grammar school while his mother was still at work, locked the door and did his homework."

Such dedication has led to more than tennis trophies. When he was 16, Cash won the Southern Chess Championship.

"Just like he can tell you every key shot from a tennis match 40 years ago, Wes can also tell you every chess move he made to win that championship," Webb said. "He has an incredible mind. And the best part of all, and I've known him most of my life, he's a better person than a tennis player."

It would be nice to say he can warmly and enthusiastically recall every big moment in his life. Alas, it had been a life with more than its share of pain long before his throat was attacked by cancer. Three years ago, Wes lost Elaine - the love of his life and the mother of their 15-year-old daughter Aden - to cancer.

Now, as his longtime seniors doubles partner Mark Vines noted Friday, "We've all got to be there for Aden, to help get her through this."

Once upon a time, when they were dominating high school doubles tennis as few have ever done, Cash got T-shirts printed for him and Guerry to wear in a match.

"On the back of one was printed 'We Are,'" Guerry said. "On the back of the other was the word 'Cool.' I think Wes was Cool. I'm pretty sure we wore them exactly one time."

Cool Cash. Not bad. But Tym has a better summation for one of the greatest tennis players, if not athletes in general, that the Scenic City will ever see: "Wes is the perfect embodiment of what you want a man to become."

photo Mark Wiedmer

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @TFPWeeds.