Battle of the Sexes relived

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Libby James

Tennis was alive and well in Fort Collins in the summer of 1972. Along with a promoter, controversial tennis star Bobby Riggs was touring the country to promote his upcoming match with Billie Jean King. Last year, the match was dramatized in the current movie, The Battle of the Sexes.

When Evie Hoeven, “Mrs. Tennis Fort Collins,” saw the movie, it brought back a fond memory. As one of the early organizers and promoters of tennis in Fort Collins, Hoeven was contacted by the Riggs organization. They asked if Fort Collins would be interested in sponsoring a community event featuring Riggs.

Hoeven promptly approached First National Bank president Tom Gleason, in search of some seed money to make the event possible. He passed her along to vice president Ted Rose, whose wife, Jan, had just taken up tennis and was loving it.

Ted had a deal for Hoeven: He would agree to underwrite a tennis match with Riggs if his wife, Jan, could hit a few balls with Riggs.

Tickets to watch the event sold briskly. All proceeds were earmarked for promoting junior tennis in Fort Collins. With considerable fanfare, the entourage arrived at the Colorado State University tennis courts. Riggs hit the ball back and forth with several of the best adult players in the Fort Collins Tennis Club. Then he hit with a few talented juniors, including Hoeven’s son, Kurt Hoeven, and Dave Michaelson, both 12 years old.

Finally, the local “Battle of the Sexes” was announced. Jan Rose, an attractive blonde, pranced onto the court in four-inch red high heels, a short, short white pleated skirt, and draped with every beaded necklace and bracelet she’d been able to scrounge up.

“Bobby baby, Bobby baby,” she called as she approached the net to shake his hand. Bobby did not disappoint. He jumped the net and ran toward her, hugging her and kissing one cheek and the other, over and over. Everyone cheered.

With solemn ceremony, he helped Jan change into the tennis shoes she produced from a large bag adorned with flowers and ribbons. She set aside her big, floppy hat and donned a pink visor.

A half hour of hysterical tennis followed as this pair of over-the-top extroverts performed a series of antics. “Riggs was so amazing,” Ted Hoeven said. “No matter how Jan hit the ball, he was able to place it right back into her hitting zone, just out of reach or over her head. She pranced and squeaked and pleaded with the crowd for help. Riggs won every point.”

When it was over, Riggs said he would hold a special place in his heart for Fort Collins, the town where he had more fun than in any other during that summer tour. His only regret was that he was not able to convince Jan to join him on tour.