23 Sep
2020

A look back at the career of Ralph ‘Skeeter’ Carson

first_img Share PENSACOLA, Fla. – Former University of West Florida men’s and women’s tennis coach Ralph “Skeeter” Carson died on Friday, Nov. 14 at the age of 85. Carson coached the Argonauts for 17 seasons from 1982-1998, leading the program from its infancy in the NAIA to an NCAA Division II national power.The visitation for Carson is scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 20 from 5 to 7 p.m. at Faith Chapel Funeral Home South at 100 Beverly Parkway in Pensacola. The funeral is scheduled for Friday, Nov. 21 at 10:30 a.m. at the Naval Aviation Memorial Chapel at NAS Pensacola, which will be followed by a graveside service at Barrancas National Cemetery. Supporters are invited to make a donation to the “Skeeter” Carson Men’s Tennis Scholarship Endowment.Before his coaching career at UWF, Carson served his country for 26 years in the United States Navy. His last tour of duty was in Pensacola, and he was hired as UWF’s tennis head coach after giving lessons on campus. Carson attended the Naval Academy and played for their tennis team, where he was the squad’s No. 1 singles player in his senior season. He graduated from the academy in 1952.Tennis was one of the first varsity sports at UWF after it opened in 1967. The student body voted to end all varsity sports in 1976, but the department was brought back for the 1980-81 academic year. Men’s and women’s tennis returned to the court that season, and Carson took over as head coach the following year.Under Carson’s watch, UWF claimed multiple individual NAIA national championships in singles and doubles. The first national championship came in women’s doubles, as Bronna Allison and Laura Cadena won the title in 1988. Allison then won a national championship in singles the following year. Eric Hochman won the men’s individual national title in 1990, and the doubles team of Hochman and Geoffrey Watts won in 1991 and Sorin Cherebetiu and Andrej Tonejc won in 1992.After the University’s transition to NCAA Division II and the Gulf South Conference prior to the 1994-95 academic year, UWF claimed three conference titles in men’s tennis (1995, 1997, 1998) and three in women’s tennis (1995, 1996, 1998) under Carson. In 1996, the men’s doubles team of Jens Gerlach and Matt Wallhead claimed the Division II national title at the ITA National Small College Championships.Carson was named NAIA National Coach of the Year in women’s tennis in 1989 and men’s tennis in 1990. He was also the GSC Coach of the Year for the men in 1998 and the women in 1995 and 1998.When he retired after the 1998 season, Carson finished with a record of 334-146 on the men’s side and 331-140 on the women’s side. His combined career record at UWF was 665-286. The tennis complex on campus was named in his honor after his retirement in 1998.Carson was inducted into the UWF Athletics Hall of Fame in 2000-01, and in 2011 he was interviewed by Megan Warden in the Public History program at UWF. The complete interview is printed below.–Oral History Interview for UWF Athletics Hall of Fame Conducted by Megan Warden, Public History Program, 26 October 2011Megan Warden: Today is October 26, 2011. My name is Megan Warden. I’m working on the UWF Athletics Hall of Fame project. I’m interviewing Mr. Ralph Carlson and we are in the UWF Athletics Administration conference room. Mr. Carson, where were you born?Ralph Carlson: Washington, D.C.Megan Warden: Is that where you grew up?Ralph Carlson: No. I was a Navy junior. I was born in Washington and then we just kept moving around.Megan Warden: When did you start playing tennis?Ralph Carlson: When I was about 5 or 6 years old.Megan Warden: Where did you attend college?Ralph Carlson: At the Naval Academy and also at Hampden-Sydney for one year.Megan Warden: Did you play sports there?Ralph Carlson: Yes.Megan Warden: Did you play tennis at the Naval Academy?Ralph Carlson: Yes.Megan Warden: How would you describe your experience on the tennis team?Ralph Carlson: I really enjoyed it. It was good, the competition was fun. We had a pretty good team.Megan Warden: How did you become involved with UWF?Ralph Carlson: In my last tour of duty in the Navy, I came here. I was in Guantanamo Bay. It was totally different then. In about 1980, I had retired and I was looking for something to keep me busy. I had gone through some training in tennis with instructors and there was a woman named Charlene Grafton, who was an exceptional tennis player. She was actually number one in the world in the 1960s for her age. So I filled in after I retired. I gave tennis lessons through her to start with. She was the one who told me to come out to UWF and see what we could do.Megan Warden: How did the actual program come about?Ralph Carlson: In April of 1979, President Robinson was here and that is when the sports program started going.Megan Warden: Do you remember any immediate challenges that you faced as a new coach?Ralph Carlson: Well I was not a coach then, but yes, when they decided to have a coach. Truthfully, the first time Joe Ambersley came by the courts and said “You’re our new tennis coach.” This was my second year giving lessons and I could be tennis coach because nobody wanted to be it. Joe set it up and I said okay. In that range of 1979 or 1980, I said we would need a men’s and a women’s team and he said no problem. We were an upper level school. When UWF started in the athletics, they were juniors and seniors. They didn’t have freshman.Megan Warden: How long did you coach at UWF?Ralph Carlson: Seventeen years.Megan Warden: What changes did you see take place over that time, even specifically with the tennis program?Ralph Carlson: Well it just got better and stronger over time. Location is very good. The United States and Korea were the only two countries that had college athletics. In England you see the rowing but they are not students. They may have graduated from that school. It was not too hard to attract internationals. At the time, out of state fees were common. Out of state fee waivers were there. I talked to Coach Spooner and he said he was short on money so I would give him a thousand dollars for two thousand dollars of out of state waivers so that is the way we scooped up a little extra bit of money. Anyway, it was not hard to establish a pretty good tennis team because we were in Florida and in this location. I just did everything I could to bring teams down here. The Tennessee teams in the spring and fall would come in for tournaments. We did not have enough money so we had to raise money. If you have a tournament at the home base, everyone pays an entry and you make profit. We were able to do that and build up.Megan Warden: So was the tennis program that you were in at the Naval Academy very different from the beginning of the program here at UWF or were they pretty similar?Ralph Carlson: The first couple years I coached, I had to recruit juniors and seniors because UWF did not have freshmen and sophomores. It was an upper level school, so that made it a little tougher to put together but we could do it. Tennis players usually come from somewhat wealthy families.Megan Warden: Is there any advice that you would give to someone that is upcoming in a tennis program?Ralph Carlson: Yeah don’t quit. The match isn’t over until you win the last point.Megan Warden: Your binders you put together are very detailed; they tell an amazing story of the tennis program here.Ralph Carlson: For recruiting, the first year of coaching, we had a nice closet. The women’s basketball coach and I were it. When I had an office, it was two-thirds the size of this room. So any way we could get publicity, we would put info on the board to say, “Hey, we have a program here.”Megan Warden: Do you still have any involvement with your sport?Ralph Carlson: Not really, but tennis has grown in this area. About two months ago I fell down on the court and jammed my shoulder. Tennis was good. The thing, looking back on, I was worried about the team. Not individuals. Geoff Watts would walk on the court and not have his shoes tied. If they did something that I did not quite agree with, like throw a racquet a few courts, which Nick Lioce would do or not have their shoes tied like Geoff Watts, I would tell them to go down to the university auto maintenance shop and wash your car in the morning. They did not want to wake up, so that was standard and how I took care of a lot of problems. They could not come back to the courts. They were a team.Megan Warden: So tennis was basically upcoming in this area when you became a coach, but were there any other tennis locations for people to play that you knew about or was this the biggest offer to young people at that time?Ralph Carlson: Yeah, it was the tennis boom in the late 1960s, so everyone had become involved with playing tennis.Megan Warden: How would you describe your overall experience in working with the UWF tennis program?Ralph Carlson: I liked it, I made it.Megan Warden: Is there anything that you would have done differently if you were able to go back and start over again with knowing now what you know?Ralph Carlson: No, I just had fun with it.Megan Warden: Did you always have an idea that you would want to coach, even at a community level, before it came about that you coached here?Ralph Carlson: Yes and No. After I got back from a three year tour in Guantanamo Bay, which was wonderful. I decided what the hell I am going to do. I was retired out of the Navy and gave tennis lessons and worked it into here. Also being at a southern school with the weather and climate, it was not hard to build a tennis program.Megan Warden: Did you like coming to Florida?Ralph Carlson: Well I had been to Pensacola before. I did flight training in Pensacola, found my wife here in town while driving my red convertible. We had picked Pensacola, not for tennis, but that came about.Megan Warden: Tell me about Mary Grafton and her mother playing doubles matches.Ralph Carlson: Her mother was the world champion in the 1960s and Mary had gone up to a northern Alabama school for a year or two and her mom did not like her that far away. She had good grades and transferred in here. She did really well. Another girl’s story, she played one of the Nebraska schools who came through and stopped here. They had a really long match. There was a Division I like Army vs. Navy or Alabama vs. Auburn type thing. The next day she came out and I’m waiting for Mary Grafton to come play. The day before she had just lost to the University of Nebraska team and she came out and lost in about twenty minutes. I asked her what happened. That was my star player. Again on life, I may not win today.Megan Warden: You mentioned that you were in the service. Do you think that having a military background affected your discipline as a coach or was that two differently compartmentalized areas?Ralph Carlson: I think I based everything on having to be a team. You have six singles and three doubles. Nobody quits.Megan Warden: How was your experience at Guantanamo Bay?Ralph Carlson: We did not have any detainees, it was before that. It was wonderful. We were down there two and a half years and the air field, what you would call VFR (visual flight rules) and IFR that means you have fog and they shut the field down. I controlled shutting the field down. The two and a half years I was there, we shut it down forty-five minutes once. It is a beautiful place if you want a suntan. It was really unbelievable. Growing up, as a junior and senior in high school in 1946, I would play my dad in tennis every Sunday morning after I went to church with mom. That was just kind of our thing. He was a pretty good player.Megan Warden: Did he play for any schools?Ralph Carlson: He was from the Naval Academy, but no.Megan Warden: If you had to say the one thing that you enjoyed the most about coaching, what would it be?Ralph Carlson: Watching the kids grow up. In college, both boys and girls, they come in shortly after two years we became a four year college so they were young. They were also big enough to appreciate what they were doing.–For information on all UWF athletics, visit www.GoArgos.com.Print Friendly Version A look back at the career of Ralph ‘Skeeter’ Carsoncenter_img UWF Athletic Communications last_img

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