Ulrich's next stop is Newport and the New England Tennis Hall of Fame
East Lyme — George Ulrich is our own tribute to a Johnny Cash lyric, the one about being everywhere, man. And man, he sure has. In no particular order: Pennsylvania, California, Guam, Vietnam, Cambodia, UConn, Guilford and New London County.
But his next stop will be the one that perhaps means most, his enshrinement next month in the New England Tennis Hall of Fame. Even better: The ceremony, which could take place in any hotel or banquet facility, will instead happen in Newport at the International Tennis Hall of Fame, home to Borg, Connors and Martina, among others.
Ulrich has been the affable Director of Tennis at Lyme Shores Tennis & Conditioning Center since 1993, making general manager Andre Danford's words about him so fitting: "a cornerstone of tennis not only in New London County but in the entire New England region."
"I love my job. I love teaching tennis. I love this area," Ulrich was saying recently from his office. "I like the people, the atmosphere of the club. Always been very friendly. Always good competition. The junior program has grown immensely. The whole atmosphere of Lyme Shores has always been very comfortable for me."
And now Ulrich will carry his memories from Lyme Shores all the way to Newport, where he'll wear the best title of all: Hall of Famer.
And to think he wasn't even much of a tennis player growing up. He was a baseball guy during his childhood 65 miles from Philadelphia in Elizabethtown, Pa.
"When I got in the Navy, I had no real options for playing baseball and a friend of mine had a tennis racket I borrowed," Ulrich said. "That's when I began playing seriously."
And so, in 1966, Ulrich, noting he "got a very bad draft number," joined the Navy. And tennis wasn't the only thing he learned during his time in the Vietnam War, part of a ship that ran from Guam between Northern Japan and Da Nang.
"It was a surreal experience," Ulrich said. "It really was. Most of the time, when we'd go into Da Nang, we'd go into the main harbors. Nothing going on there. The only time there was a scary situation was after the Cambodian invasion. The ship that was supposed to take the supplies into Cambodia got hit and it was our turn to rotate in. We went to a supply depot, loaded up and went into Cambodia. We were on the river. That's scary because of there was so much stuff going on.
"We had to load a zillion sandbags, took on new equipment we never needed before. The total armament on these old boats was three 50-caliber machine guns. That's it. Us kids, we didn't have anything to do with shooting, but I swear the guys that did couldn't hit anything. That experience had a lot to do with my growing up."
Ulrich returned to Connecticut and attended UConn, where he was the No. 1 singles player and two-time Yankee Conference champ.
"I was all set to go to law school," Ulrich said. "During the summers, when I was in college, I taught tennis at a few different places. A friend called me about a new club in Guilford that was looking for a tennis pro. I thought I could do that. That September of '74 started what turned out to be my career teaching tennis."
He spent six years in Guilford, 13 more at the Waterford Racquet Club and the last 26 at Lyme Shores, teaching prominent high school players in the region's history. Ulrich did his teaching, all while serving New England tennis as a member of the United States Tennis Association New England Board of Directors, founding and board member of New England Senior Tennis Foundation, recipient of Gardner Chase Memorial Award for outstanding contribution to New England tennis and captain of USTA/NE Atlantic Coast men's intersectional team for 15 years.
All that and a friendship with the great Bud Collins, the late tennis writer for the Boston Globe and perhaps the most prominent media member in the history of the sport.
"I got to know Bud from at Longwood," Ulrich said, alluding to Longwood Cricket Club, an iconic tennis haven in Chestnut Hill, Mass. "To be able to talk to him and have him tell me stories was amazing. I don't remember the year, but they were playing the World Cup in Hartford between Australia and the U.S. I was at the Civic (now XL) Center and I saw Bud. He goes, 'Ulrich! Ulrich! I haven't seen you for years! You still playing? Well, we gotta do dinner, but not tonight!'"
Yet somewhere, Bud toasts his old friend for service to the game they love. How fortunate we've been that he's been teaching it in our corner of the world.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro