Original 9 Reunion: It's A Wrap!

When the Original 9 gathered at the Family Circle Cup in Charleston last week, the occasion was both joyous and historic.

Published April 13, 2012 04:30

Original 9 Reunion: It's A Wrap!
Billie Jean King, Peaches Bartkowitz, Kristy Pigeon, Valerie Ziegenfuss, Judy Tegart Dalton, Julie Heldman, Kerry Melville Reid, Nancy Richey, Rosie Casals

CHARLESTON, SC, USA - If they ever doubted, during the past 42 years, that their stand against the tennis establishment would be remembered, the Original 9 needn't have worried. Reunited by Family Circle Cup as part of the tournament's 40th birthday celebrations, the godmothers of women's professional tennis - Peaches Bartkowicz, Rosie Casals, Judy Tegart Dalton, Julie Heldman, Billie Jean King, Kerry Melville Reid, Kristy Pigeon, Nancy Richey and Valerie Ziegenfuss - weren't just fêted in Charleston. Their legacy was cemented.

The historic occasion kicked off on Thursday, April 5, when eight of the nine gathered privately at Charleston Place hotel. WTA Chairman and CEO Stacey Allaster welcomed the group, presenting them with equal prize money memento pins in recognition of the quest they launched all those years ago: the capacity for women to make a decent living from playing tennis.

Then the party moved to picturesque Legare Waring House, an antebellum plantation home just outside the city. The highlight of the evening, hosted by former Wimbledon champion Virginia Wade on behalf of Family Circle owner Meredith Corporation, was the speech made by Original 9 member Heldman as she received the Georgina Clark Mother Award on behalf of her late mother - pioneering publisher and promoter, Gladys.

"This award is certainly not because Gladys Heldman was a traditional mother," said Heldman, who received the honor from last year's winner, fellow 9-er Dalton. "But she was a helluva role model. She taught us to value education and success, she was committed to helping others, and she stood up for what she believed in."

By Friday evening King had arrived in town, meaning all nine women were together for just the second time since their playing days. Time, then, to recreate the iconic dollar bill photograph taken at the Virginia Slims Invitational in Houston on September 23, 1970 - right after the Original 9 had signed their renegade contracts with Gladys. Then came another journey down memory lane: a media-lined blue carpet that paved the way to a gala dinner in the ballroom at Charleston Place.

Ziegenfuss glowed: "We haven't had this much attention in 40 years!"

With Pam Shriver and US soccer standout Julie Foudy serving as emcees, the Original 9 were joined on stage by fellow legends Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, Tracy Austin, Martina Hingis and Rennae Stubbs. Venus Williams was also there - a surprise guest whose presence meant half a century worth of tennis greatness was represented.

During an insightful, entertaining Q&A session, Williams spoke eloquently about what the Original 9 had done for successive generations. Revealing that Peaches Bartkowicz had been her first tennis hero, Austin added: "I could listen to these women tell their stories for hours. It's important that people hear these stories. Today's players have so much to be grateful for."

That today's stars benefit from the hard graft of players who didn't necessarily make a fortune was acknowledged when Allaster announced the WTA Assistance Program (WTAAP). Designed to help former players and tournament directors who have fallen on hard times, the fund - to be financed on an ongoing basis by the WTA after an initial allocation of $100,000 - received a huge boost when Family Circle Cup and tournament sponsor SunTrust bank both made $20,000 donations.

Shriver said it all as she wrapped up the evening: "It's been emotional, it's been amazing. It's been an honor to be here."

On Saturday, King and Casals channeled the good old days by regaling the media in a joint press conference at the tournament site. "You know, you guys, we didn't have any media that used to come to us like this! We used to always have to get in a car and go every place," said King. "We'd go at 6:00 in the morning. We'd stay up until 2:00 at night.

"We're here to say thank you."

That done, King and Casals joined the rest of the Original 9 for 40Love: A Night of Empowerment. One by one, the women were introduced to fans on stadium court; King, last to make her entrance, issued high-fives to her comrades as she swept along the line-up.

The Original 9 then settled in to watch a World TeamTennis-style exhibition featuring Evert, Wade, Navratilova, Austin, Hingis and Stubbs, as well as John McEnroe and Aaron Krickstein. Capping proceedings, the stadium was renamed in honor of King - the undisputed queen of tennis.

Related content:
>> Portrait Of Our Ladies: The Recreation
>> Julie Heldman's Charleston Blog
>> Gallery: Magical Moments From Charleston
>> Gladys Heldman: A Daughter's Perspective
>> Quotable Quotes... On The Original 9

Topics: 2012, charleston, news
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