Woodie Walker honored at US Open after leaving a legacy
Articles by Gordan Englehardt of the Courier and Press.
We are both honored to know Woodie Walker. She has been a staple in the tennis community for several years and has left an impact that only she could make. Through her dedication and hard work over the years this award is well deserved. We would like to thank Woodie for all that she has done, not only within our community but for tennis as a whole. The game of tennis is better because of her passion, attitude and hard work.
Please enjoy the articles below. Both were written by Gordan Englehardt. The first was published September 25, 2017
Newburgh resident Walker honored at Billie Jean King Center
Phyllis “Woodie” Sublett Walker was surprised when a special award, the Woodie Walker “C.A.R.E” award was given in her name at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center Awards Ceremony in Flushing, New York. The initials stand for: commitment, accountability, responsibility and excellence.
This award will be given to an official whose contributions to the game distinguish them not only for their lifetime of service but exemplifies the qualities Walker has always represented in the game.
Walker, a Newburgh resident, organized local tournaments and served as manager for Tri-State Racquet Club in the 1970s before turning her full attention to the pro level, where she became a innovator in how the sport is officiated.
Walker was pleased to present the first Woodie Walker C.A.R.E. award to the Bruce Littrell family, in honor of Bruce Littrell, who passed away in 2014 but exemplified the attributes of the award.
Through Walker’s many years of officiating, she has continued to demonstrate her commitment and professionalism. Walker’s contribution to worldwide officiating at top level in cooperation with all governing bodies has proved her to be exemplary to fellow officials.
Among her extensive list of assignments, Walker has worked every US Open since 1969 and has been a Chief Umpire for the ATP World Tour since 1978; she has served as Chief Umpire for the WTA Tour, Davis Cup, Fed Cup & the 1996 Olympic Games. Walker has gone above and beyond the requirements of an official and has been certified as an ITF International Gold Badge Referee, Chair Umpire and Chief Umpire.
Like Billie Jean King, Walker leaves an indelible tennis legacy
Growing up in the late 1940s, Phyllis “Woodie” Sublett Walker basically had three choices. She could become a teacher, a nurse or a secretary.
None of those piqued her interest. Instead, she worked to become an internationally-acclaimed tennis official.
Walker received the Woodie Walker “C.A.R.E.” award last month at the Billie Jean King Tennis Center in Flushing, New York. The initials stand for: commitment, accountability, responsibility and excellence.
Not in attendance for the famous Billie Jean King-Bobby Riggs “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match at the Houston Astrodome in 1973, Walker was a trailblazer in her own right, carving an indelible legacy from the sidelines. With the advent of Title IX, women wanted equal pay and equal opportunity. Informing her superiors of this, she was met with astonishment, trepidation and perhaps even fear.
Although it might be politically incorrect to refer to a cigarette commercial, some might recall the old Virginia Slims ad: “You’ve come a long way, baby.” But Walker thinks women’s athletics still have a long way to go. The current “Battle of the Sexes” movie couldn’t have come at a better time for those who don’t remember the sexist climate that was so pervasive back in the day.
An estimated 90 million viewers from around the world tuned in to watch King, 29, defeat Riggs, 55, in a $100,000 winner-take-all match in the wake of the sexual revolution and rise of the women’s movement. Walker watched the movie last weekend.
“Jack Kramer had a key role in trying to keep the women down and being against equal prize money,” said Walker, a Newburgh resident who turned 88 Sunday. “I knew him and he was a very good friend of my older brother and worked very hard for tennis but thought it was a male sport. Billie Jean was instrumental in changing that.”
Walker, who got her nickname because her maiden name was Wood, remembers how patronizing men were to women.
“It was in using terms like ‘the girls,’ ‘gals,’ ‘sweetheart’…that reminded us that we were not taken seriously,” she said. “What was interesting to me was realizing that I actually knew most of the ‘names’ in the movie.”
Walker said it was probably the first time anyone started talking about gender or being gay or lesbian in relation to sports.
“That took a lot of strength on the part of BJK…and we HAVE come a long way baby! That was well-handled in the movie,” Walker said. “That being said, there is work to do.”
Walker was fortunate to have a father who believed in her and said she could be whatever she wanted to be.
“He never had me in a strictly ‘feminine role,’’’ she said. “I trailered my horse by myself to some horse shows. I also had three older brothers whom I idolized and whom never saw limitations in what I could or should do. I was the only girl in the family, the youngest, so I learned by watching, but they gave me confidence.”
However, there was still a misconception that women belonged in the “bedroom and kitchen,” Walker said.
She had to learn to speak up for herself, but never really set out to be a role model.
“I was just doing what I loved to do and what I thought was fair,” Walker said.
Beginning her officiating career in 1968, Walker became manager of Tri-State Racquet Club (now Tri-State Athletic Club) in 1972, the only woman manager of an indoor facility that she knew of in the area. She was chief umpire of the U.S. Open from 1985-88 and the only female chief umpire of any of the Grand Slams for several years. Still chief umpire of the USTA (United States Tennis Association) in 2014, she presided over her last U.S. Open before retiring.
Small in stature, Walker had the ability to take control. Serving as chair umpire for one of John McEnroe’s matches at the Indianapolis Clay Courts Tournament, she had no problems.
However, Walker remembered one particular 1982 match at a tournament in California. She overruled a line judge, saying Ivan Lendl had faulted on his first serve. Lendl stared her down.
“He bounced the ball and looked at me and said, ‘Was it long or wide?’ I said it was wide and he said, ‘You’re right.’’’
That was it. Walker had gained Lendl’s respect. Through the years, she earned the respect of the international tennis community and beyond. Kind of like Billie Jean King, in that pivotal exhibition match against Bobby Riggs in 1973.