Randy Smith: McEnroe And Me

Friday, August 22, 2014 - by Randy Smith
Randy Smith
Randy Smith

Earlier this week I received an email from my son. It was part of a group message sent to all the members of my family and it read, "Now I know the story behind the picture that has been in our house for 30 years. Check it out on YouTube."

The picture he was referring to is a picture of myself in my freshly starched tennis attire, playing alongside tennis great John McEnroe. The video he had found on YouTube is from a story that was done by channel 12 sports reporter Doug Thomas back in November of 1982. That was when the UTC Arena officially opened with a tennis exhibition between McEnroe and Argentine tennis star Guillermo Vilas. It was the first event ever held at "The Roundhouse" and following the exhibition match, (won by Vilas 6-3, 3-6, 6-3) I teamed with McEnroe to play Vilas and channel 12 weatherman Don Welch.

It was an event I will never forget....for several different reasons.

First, let me say upfront that I found the "bad boy" of tennis to be very likeable and quite unlike anything you read or heard about. When he arrived at the airport, we picked him up in a big limo and he was very polite and seemed to actually be happy to be in Chattanooga. While our match was going on, he did his usual antics but under his breath as he made fun of my racquet and my big heavy feet on the court, he was apologetic for making fun of me.  He had plenty of reason to poke fun because tennis was never one of my best sports, though I enjoyed playing. We won our match over Welch and Vilas pretty handily which doesn't speak well for Don Welch's ability on the court either. Though the tennis and athletic ability actually went down when Welch and I took the court, the crowd stayed for the entire match, and everyone seemed to enjoy watching us stumble all over the court.

I have always had a good friendship with Don Welch. We have worked together on several occasions, but I still haven't forgotten that he took my clothing that I was given from the Levi-Strause company for that tennis exhibition. Levi-Strause was the official sponsor of the exhibition tour and we were given a couple of shirts and pants combinations. The only problem was this; they gave us each the same size. Don Welch was considerably smaller than I was in 1982. The clothing fit him perfectly but was two or three sizes too small for me. Thus, he took all of it. I complained for weeks that he got all the "loot" but all he would do was smile at me with those big pearly whites. It was good-natured fun and I still think fondly to this day about how special that evening was.

So, if you would like to see the actual footage, search YouTube.com and type in, McEnroe WDEF-TV archives. The video should come right up. For my son Davey, I have this question; how in the world did you ever find that video after thirty-two years? My wife Shelia was pregnant with you on that night, and you would be born in less than a month. And for Don Welch, remember "Grandpappy" you still owe me a couple of outfits of clothing! 

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Randy Smith has been covering sports on radio, television and print for the past 45 years. After leaving WRCB-TV in 2009, he has written two books, and has continued to free-lance as a play-by-play announcer. He is currently teaching Broadcasting at Coahulla Creek High School near Dalton, Ga.

His career has included a 17-year stretch as host of the Kickoff Call In Show on the University of Tennessee’s prestigious Vol Network. He has been a member of the Vol Network staff for thirty years.

He has done play-by-play on ESPN, ESPN II, CSS, and Fox SportSouth, totaling more than 500 games, and served as a well-known sports anchor on Chattanooga Television for more than a quarter-century.

In 2003, he became the first television broadcaster to be inducted into the Greater Chattanooga Area Sports Hall of Fame. Randy and his wife Shelia reside in Hixson. They have two married children, (Christi and Chris Perry; Davey and Alison Smith.) They have four grandchildren, Coleman, Boone, DellaMae and CoraLee.

To contact Randy: rsmithsports@epbfi.com


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