Lee Hammel, who would have turned 88 on Nov. 19, passed away last week of natural causes at his Salt Lake County home after fighting an illness at length.
It was found that University of Utah law professor Scott Matheson, Jr., played tennis at East High where Hammel coached tennis and taught social studies.
Matheson reflected Tusdy, “I played No. 1 singles on the team Lee coached, he would post the team rankings on his classroom door and he always listed himself as the No. 1 player. And he was. I could never win a match against Lee. He was one of those guys who rarely made a mistake.” Matheson was among many tennis supporters who believed Hammel and his wife Ruby were a bond that could not be broken, especially as organizers of The Salt Lake Tribune No Champs championship, which at one time involved hundreds of players and used most of the available courts in the valley. Ruby still lives, along with 3 children Carolee, Brad and Laury.
Appropriately, the Hammels first date took place on the tennis court.
“What an amazing team they were,” Matheson said. “The impact they had both in the classroom and on tennis courts affected thousands of lives in an incredible way?.” Linda Vincent, executive director of the Utah Tennis Association, called Hammel the consummate volunteer. She enjoyed Hammel’s quirks and unique personalty. “He was always such a fun loving person,” she recalled. “I am going to miss the green and red popcorn he brought us every Christmas. And there’s not a pair of glasses he couldn’t lose. He was such a wonderful person, so kind and generous of his time.” John Cummins, a retired Salt Lake Tribune employee who worked closely with Hammel on the newspaper-sponsored No Champs Tennis Tournament, said thousands of young tennis players got started in the game that way.
“He liked to see the kids and the people with little or no experience play,” recalled Cummins. “He was devoted to tennis. He would drive you up the wall sometimes but he got the job done… He could be demanding. He wanted to do it right.” Born in Salt Lake City, Hammel served in the Navy and Coast Guard during World War II. He graduated from the University of Utah, where he also earned a masters degree and played tennis. He taught school for more than 30 years in Blanding, Loa, and Pioche, Nev., before moving to Whittier Elementary, South High and East High in Salt Lake City.
Always involved in tennis, he was the manager and pro at the Salt Lake Tennis Club in the 1950s and ’60s. Though known as an organizer and coach, Hammel was a fine player in his own right, earning many No. 1 rankings in Utah and the Intermountain area in addition to winning several national senior tournaments.
Between the years of 1934-1948, Lee Hammel won many local tournaments and in 1947 he helped the U of U win the Kerr Cup in the #4 singles position. He was a high school tennis coach for 30 years, ran the Tribune No-champs for 24 years and served as UTA President for two separate terms. He has received many awards for his outstanding service to the tennis community. He was ranked #1 thirteen times in Utah for the Men’s 35, 45, 50 and over Singles, and was ranked #1 six times for Men’s 35, 45, 50 and over Doubles. He has been ranked national in the 55, 60, 65, 70 and over divisions; 8 times in singles and six times in doubles. In International Play he represented the US in the Britannia Cup twice, and the Crawford Cup once, playing #2 singles, #1 Doubles, #1 Doubles respectively. He is best know for his classic strokes and well-placed (but not particularly fast) serve.
A viewing is Wednesday night from 7 to 9 p.m. at Mt. View Memorial, 3115 E. 7800 South, with the funeral Thursday at 11 a.m. at the Holladay United Church of Christ, 2631 E. Murray Holladay Road.