MERIDIAN, Miss. (WTOK) – Former Meridian Community College tennis coach Wanda McPhail first met Rod Hartzog in the 1980s while working as a tennis pro at Northwood Country Club.
Rod made things happen at Northwood and I started going to tournaments he had there, McPhail said. He and I initially had a love-hate relationship because he was a tennis pro who taught lessons and I was self-taught. He would bother me, but I would always bother him again.
McPhail has kept in touch with Hartzog over the years. In 2001, she was hired by MCC as the new tennis coach and often sent her players to learn from Hartzog.
Rod was one of the few people who just wanted my kids to come out and play without ever charging them, McPhail said. He really liked tennis more than anyone else I’ve ever been to.
According to the Mississippi Tennis Foundations website, Hartzog played tennis at Meridian High School and graduated in 1969. He then went on to play tennis with Ole Miss on a scholarship.
Bruce Clopton, who was younger than Hartzog but played tennis with his sister Nancy at Meridian, said he would play with Hartzog when he got home from college on weekends.
The Meridian Raquet Club used to be on the old high school tennis courts, and that was the first time I saw Rod play and actually play with him, Clopton said. I was quite impressed with him. You knew his name and seemed to be playing him, so when I started playing with him, I got even more awe.
After graduating from Ole Miss, Hartzog was hired as the new men’s tennis coach in Mississippi at the age of 24, making him the youngest men’s tennis coach in the SEC. He then went on to coach internationally in places such as Italy, West Germany and Sri Lanka before returning to Meridian in 1983 to become Northwoods tennis pro.
I think a lot of young people when they grow up cannot wait to get away from home. Then they go out and realize that home is a special place, McPhail said. I think Rod grew up here, his family lived here, and so many of his tennis friends were here that he just wanted to be home again.
Hartzog died in 2018 at the age of 67. According to his obituary, he died in Memphis after a long illness. Two years after Hartzogs’ death, the Mississippi Tennis Foundation included him in their hall of fame.
While Hartzog is not alive to celebrate the honor, McPhail and Clopton are celebrating the honor for him by highlighting the positive impact he had on the tennis community in Meridian.
I’m so glad he could be recognized this way because to me he embodies so many things that are Mississippi tennis, McPhail said. In those days when he taught at Northwood, junior tennis was big here (in Meridian) because of him.
It’s a great honor, said Clopton. They don’t put a lot of people in the hall of fame so it’s a huge honor for him to be in it
Besides playing tennis, Hartzog liked to spend time with his dog Tiriac (named after the Romanian tennis player Ion Tiriac) and his three horses Paco, Valdez and Jose.
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