Steady Progress

“Steady Eddie” was his nickname, and his record shows why. Tennis player Eddie van Beverhoudt won the Greater New Haven City Open men’s singles title 18 times between 1949 and 1970 and enjoyed a run of more than 60 years as a player and coach.

Born on the island of Saint Thomas in 1918, less than a year after it transitioned from a Danish to a US territory, van Beverhoudt immigrated to the mainland in 1943 and volunteered as a merchant marine radio officer during World War II. He followed up his service with a long career as a civilian administrative officer for the Department of the Army, but on the side, he was always playing tennis.

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Over his long athletic career, he racked up more than 400 titles and played against tennis greats including Arthur Ashe and Don Budge. He also broke the color barrier at the New Haven Lawn Club in the 1950s. “They had to have an executive board meeting to let me in,” van Beverhoudt told Court Time magazine in 1997. “Many times whites would do anything to keep a black player from beating them, including taunting and harassing.”

One secret to van Beverhoudt’s success was his understanding of tennis as “a head game,” he divulged to the New Haven Register in 1988. The pros, he said, had come to think of it, instead, as a “power game. Few have really stopped to learn to play; to plan things out. The key is to keep the ball in play.”

Before Black athletes could play with whites, they played in their own league, the American Tennis Association (ATA). Van Beverhoudt later became a member of the United States Tennis Association and was inducted into its New England Hall of Fame in 1997. In 1991, six renovated courts at Southern Connecticut State University’s Bowen Field were renamed in van Beverhoudt’s honor but were later torn down to make way for an expansion of the university’s football field, according to Bill Ewen, retired Hopkins School math teacher and tennis coach. Van Beverhoudt was the tennis pro at The Woodbridge Club when Ewen first met him in 1972. Newly hired at the nearby Oak Lane Country Club (now The Tradition Golf Club at Oak Lane), Ewen turned to van Beverhoudt for help stringing rackets, and the two became friends.

“I was a rookie as far as [being] a tennis pro at a country club, so he showed me the ropes,” Ewen says. “He didn’t have to do that, but he did, and I never forgot it.” Ewen spent time with van Beverhoudt and his wife, Margaret, over the years, but he never got on the court with the champion. “He was a very smart player,” Ewen recalls. “He didn’t overpower you… He could outmaneuver people who were more powerful than him because he knew where to place the ball. He didn’t make a lot of mistakes.”

Ewen and Ronald “Mickey” Byrd, a retired Hamden Middle School guidance counselor, both of whom considered van Beverhoudt a mentor, have been on a mission to name Edgewood Park’s recently refurbished tennis courts, located in the park’s northwest corner, in his memory. (A 2022 report indicates the naming has been approved, but so far no signage has been erected to make it official.) Byrd recalls van Beverhoudt teaching him how to hit a drop shot, something he never mastered the way the pro had. “He was a positive person, he had a good attitude, he was willing to show you different shots,” Byrd recalls. The two traveled to national tournaments together, and Byrd recalls van Beverhoudt playing tennis into his 80s. He died in 2003 at the age of 85. Byrd then raised the funds to memorialize his friend with a bench, dedicated in 2004, at the top of the Edgewood Park courts where he often played.

Ewen describes van Beverhoudt as a legend; Byrd calls him an icon. Both think putting van Beverhoudt’s name on the Edgewood courts would serve his legacy of generosity and excellence to new generations of New Haven tennis players.

Written by Kathy Leonard Czepiel. Image 1, featuring Arthur Ashe and Eddie van Beverhoudt at an official occasion, provided courtesy of Ronald “Mickey” Byrd. Image 2, featuring “Edgewood Crew” members Billy Bostic (center) and Byrd (right) on the bench dedicated to van Beverhoudt, photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel. This updated story was originally published on August 27, 2021.

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About Kathy Leonard Czepiel

View all posts by Kathy Leonard Czepiel
Kathy Leonard Czepiel is a writer and communications pro whose perfect New Haven day would involve lots of sunshine, a West Rock hike, a concert on the Green and a coffee milkshake. She posts twice-weekly content for book clubs in her Substack newsletter, Better Book Clubs.

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