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Holding court University of Memphis alumna Bonnie

me to play — mostly men. They thought I was just

Dondeville Farley says that in the early 1960s,

trying to show off. Some of the letters that were

there “weren’t any women to play tennis with”

written in to the paper were just awful. Stuff like,

and “very few women’s teams at the collegiate

‘Why don’t you mind your own business.’ ‘Women


shouldn’t play against men.’ I got letters from all

So she did the next best thing. Farley (BSEd ’66, MEd ’69) became perhaps

across the country, mean, hostile ones. “That made me mad. But half the time,

the first female to play on an NCAA men’s

opposing teams would have me play their No.

squad when she tried out and made then-

1 guy, and I would get creamed.”

Memphis State University’s tennis team in 1963. It was no fluke. Farley won the No. 5 singles title while

Farley says her own male teammates were very supportive. “At one match, someone said something really

competing at the Tennessee Intercollegiate

ugly to me, and I thought Kenny (her partner)

Athletic Conference championships in 1963

was going to get him. Rude, flirtatious comments.

at Sewanee. She and former Tiger Ken Lewis

I thought Kenny was going to kill him!

paired to form the No. 1 doubles team at Memphis, going undefeated for two straight years. “Kenny and I killed them,” she says. “I hit the ball hard, I was competitive and I could lob. But my serve was terrible — I served like a girl,” she says, tongue in cheek. Farley is naturally ambidextrous, which was

“But I also got some encouraging letters, saying things like, ‘You go, Bonnie!’” Farley says the team’s coach, Dr. William Walker, was also her English teacher. “If it had not been for him, I would not have passed that English class. I mean, he was hard. He started out with 30 or 40 students and there

one reason opponents dreaded playing her

ended up being only five left. I stayed after class

from an early age. She was the No. 1-ranked

every day, and I said to him, ‘Dr. Walker, you

female in the South as a 15-year-old.

have to help me.’ He helped me through it.”

“I had a unique style of hitting deadly

Farley made national headlines on a number

forehands from either side,” she says. “I would

of occasions as a female playing on a men’s

switch hands and always hit with a forehand.

team. She moved on to a teaching career in

I just did that from the first time I picked up a

Memphis in 1966, a profession she stayed in for

racquet, and it stuck with me.”

40 years. But she also made news outside of

Former U of M women’s tennis coach Charlotte Peterson says Farley was extremely competitive and hated to lose. “I played against her in open tournaments,”

her accomplishments on the Tiger team. “Pat Boone, the singer, said, ‘I am going down to Memphis, and there is a girl there who thinks she can beat me and I am going

says Peterson. “She was the best. Two fore-

to beat her.’ I played him twice and beat him

hands, no backhand. Both forehands were

twice. He wasn’t very good. He got on his

equally strong.” Peterson says it didn’t matter

knees and begged me not to beat him.

which side it was hit to because her stroke was “lethal” from either side. But times were very different in the early

“Boone then said, ‘We are going to do this again.’ But the next time he came down, he

Top: Bonne Dondeville Farley is still very active on the tennis court; she is known for having a “lethal” forehand from both the left-hand and right-hand sides. Above: Farley made national headlines when she made the Tiger men’s tennis team in 1963, becoming perhaps the first female to compete on an all-male squad at the college level. (Photo courtesy of U of M Athletics)

“I still play with the group of guys I grew up with. They don’t mess around. It is competitive.” Farley also accomplished another first: she

brought Pancho Segura. Pancho made me look

is the only female inducted into the U of M

1960s. Ole Miss refused to play Memphis

stupid!” Segura is a former No. 1 co-ranked

men’s Hall of Fame.

because “they had a girl on the team.” She was

player in the world.

dealt a good dose of harassment. “There were a lot of people who just didn’t want W W W. M E M P H I S . E D U

Farley is still frequently on the tennis court all these years later.

“In the Hall of Fame, it says, ‘Bonnie Dondeville, men’s tennis.’ It looks like a typo,” she points out with a laugh. — ­ by Greg Russell FA L L 2 014


Profile for University of Memphis


University of Memphis Fall Magazine


University of Memphis Fall Magazine