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TENNIS: Levi Adams’ championship career earns spot in PVILCA hall

Levi Adams honed his basketball and tennis games on the same outdoor court as a Port Arthur youngster in the 1940s.

“Years ago — and by the way, he was much older than I was — there was a guy named Wilbert Getwood. He played for Lincoln [High School],” he said. “I heard things about him as a tennis player, and that helped kind of motivate me as a tennis player because I knew his family. That kind of started me.

“I used to live across the street [from Lincoln] at that time, and that’s how I also started out playing basketball at the same time, because I didn’t have anything else to do. There was no such thing as computers and cells.”

Levi Adams poses at far left with fellow Lincoln players Barbara Pernell, Barbara Thomas, Vivian Sinegal and Fedrick Gabriel in a yearbook photo. (Courtesy of Levi Adams)

By the time Adams graduated Lincoln in 1955, he was a state singles and doubles champion headed to Austin’s Huston-Tillotson College (now Huston-Tillotson University) on a scholarship for both tennis and basketball.

More than six decades later, the Prairie View Interscholastic League Coaches Association will induct Adams into its Hall of Fame on July 20 at the Marriott Hotel near Hobby Airport in Houston.

“I was surprised because it’s been so long,” Adams, 83, said. “And I thank God for blessing me to be around today. There are so many of my classmates from ’55 who are gone. So I was blessed and fortunate to receive this recognition, but I thank God.”

Fellow Lincoln graduate Ken Washington and former Beaumont ISD Superintendent Carrol “Butch” Thomas will be inducted into the hall as well. Adams remembers Washington moving into Port Arthur with his family, including his father and longtime Lincoln football coach Joe Washington Sr. and brother/two-time Oklahoma All-American Joe Jr.

The Prairie View Interscholastic League was the governing body of activities for Texas black high schools from 1920-70 and was based at Prairie View A&M University. (The University Interscholastic League, based at the University of Texas at Austin, allowed PVIL members to integrate the association in 1967.)

Lincoln, as Adams recalled, was one of the few black schools in Texas that offered swimming, tennis and golf programs. Principal A. Tennyson Miller hired football coach R.L. Posey to lead the tennis program before Vernon Wells came on to coach both swimming and tennis.

“He was great, too, at tennis,” Adams said. “He really, as far as my skills in tennis, took it from this level [raising his hand from the dinner table] to this level.”

Adams competed in at least one state tennis final three straight years, while Lincoln was engaged in an on-court rivalry with Corpus Christi Coles. He lost the 1953 3A state singles final to James Gerard of Coles and won the 1955 3A state singles title over Cole’s Ferris McGarity. In 3A doubles, Adams teamed with George Mitchell to beat Curtis Lewis and McGarity in the 1953 final, and lost with Henry Hunt to James Clemons and McGarity the next year.

Adams said he was happy to get into the 1955 state singles bracket. He beat McGarity 3-6, 6-4, 6-3.

“I knew I had a good coach in Vernon Wells, and he just kept telling me, ‘You can do it,’” he said. “We started playing. It was a challenge the first few games, and all of a sudden I just picked it up, and I finally beat him in that last set. But [Wells] kept encouraging me.”

In all, Jefferson County schools — Beaumont Hebert and Charlton-Pollard and Port Arthur Lincoln — each accounted for 10 PVIL state boys and girls tennis titles.

Adams’ wife, Sharon, managed to recover many of his tennis championship medals from Tropical Storm Harvey’s floodwaters in 2017. (His 1954 medal was swept away by the storm.)

“They were tarnishing, but we didn’t mind the tarnish,” Mrs. Adams said. “We wanted to save these medals so we could share the glory with our grandson, Langston Adams Jr.”

Levi and Sharon Adams will celebrate their 55th wedding anniversary two days before the Hall of Fame ceremony.

Following graduation from Huston-Tillotson, Adams began a long career in education, mostly in the Port Arthur ISD as a physical education instructor. He retired in 1993 as assistant principal at Booker T. Washington Elementary.

Washington, who went into the Texas High School Football Hall of Fame in Waco last year, is among the PVIL-UIL “Bridging the Gap” honorees as someone who competed at a school that was transitioning or had just transitioned from the PVIL to the UIL. He helped Lincoln go 30-4-1 as a quarterback from 1971-73, engineering the Bumblebees’ best three-year run as a UIL program.

Washington was named the Missouri Valley Conference’s 1974 Newcomer of the Year as a freshman at North Texas and finished his collegiate career with 4,313 total yards.

Thomas was a heavily recruited four-sport standout at Lockhart and played with Pro Football Hall of Famer Gene Upshaw at what is now Texas A&M-Kingsville.

Three from Port Arthur were inducted into the PVILCA hall in San Antonio last year: retired Lincoln football coach Dick Williams, Memorial High School Principal Glenn Mitchell and Memorial economics teacher Bobby Leopold.

I.C. Murrell: 721-2435. Twitter: @ICMurrellPANews

About I.C. Murrell

I.C. Murrell was promoted to editor of The News, effective Oct. 14, 2019. He previously served as sports editor since August 2015 and has won or shared eight first-place awards from state newspaper associations and corporations. He was born in Memphis, Tennessee, grew up mostly in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and graduated from the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

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