Remembering Marlin ‘Hersh’ Herschman, founder of Tahoe Tennis Classic
Special to the Tribune
When Marlin Herschman left his native Montana to visit Lake Tahoe in 1963, little did he know what a life-changing trip it would be.
Or how many lives he would touch for more than 50 years while he carved out a legacy within the South Shore sports community, especially when it came to his contributions in tennis. A large part of that legacy came as co-founder of the Tahoe Tennis Classic doubles tournament in Zephyr Cove, which annually attracts players locally and from numerous states.
Herschman – better known by his nickname, “Hersh” – passed away on Aug. 7 at The Chateau in Gardnerville after a battle with brain cancer. He was 76.
So, how important was tennis to Hersh? His wife of 25 years, Sheryl paused when asked how he would like to be remembered.
“That’s a hard question. He would probably want to be remembered as being very involved in tennis,” she said, adding with a laugh, “I used to say that on our wedding vows, I promised to love, honor and always allow tennis to come first.”
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Longtime friend Jim Frega added that tennis provided a good source for life’s lessons.
“He hated when he would make a mental mistake,” Frega said. “Hersh expected 100 percent from himself, and if he made a mistake, he would never blame his partner or anybody else. He would own up to it.”
Herschman founded the Tahoe Classic in 1983, along with Greg Painter and Gary Covell, and served as an organizer, promoter and player in the event for 35 years. In 2014 the tournament was turned over to the nonprofit Zephyr Cove Tennis Club Foundation.
Aside from competition, the Classic was about opportunities to meet new friends.
“Hersh could recognize skill in players,” Sheryl said. “He was very good at setting up games and getting people together to play who were equally matched. People just enjoyed being around him and I guess it was because he would say something and then he would go ahead and do it. He always used to talk about one word to describe yourself, and he used the word integrity.”
Painter added that he met his own wife at a mixed doubles tournament after an introduction from Herschman.
“Bringing people together was what Hersh and Sheryl did so well through what they did in the tennis community,” Painter said. “They created many relationships between people who would play games together, make friendships and even get married.”
Herschman and Painter regularly played as a doubles team in tournaments between 1974-88.
“I loved playing with Hersh because he was a competitor,” Painter said. “He was someone who played to win and was a good person at the same time.”
Herschman was known for his “woodchopper,” a unique two-hand backhand shot.
“It was like he was chopping wood,” Painter explained. “It was such a distinctive shot and it was his put-away shot.”
TRAIL TO TAHOE
Herschman graduated from Saint Ignatius High School (Saint Ignatius, Montana) in 1961 then served two years in the Army before he accompanied a friend on that life-changing trip to Tahoe.
“Hersh was going to make his living as a gambler,” Sheryl said, laughing.
Instead, Herschman began work shortly after his 21st birthday in 1964 at Harrah’s Tahoe, where he remained until his retirement as a craps dealer in 2002.
“I remember how he talked about his high school days, when he played quarterback for his football team,” said Frega, a colleague at Harrah’s. “He was really competitive in that sense and I think it made him very much a disciplined person. He didn’t just have discipline in how he played tennis, but at work. You always showed up on time, you knew your game, you knew your stuff. He was like, ‘We’re going to do this right, or we’re not going to do this at all.’”
Frank Forvilly became acquainted with Herschman through tennis at Round Hill Pines Resort and basketball at Whittell High School, located within sight of the Zephyr Cove Tennis Club where the Tahoe Classic is played.
“We would see him at all of our games,” said Forvilly, who coached basketball at Whittell in the 1970s. “Hersh was so into sports. He knew all the players and he knew their parents because the community in those days was so close.”
Herschman enjoyed helping others, whether it was mentoring a young tennis player or extending a helping hand to a friend.
“He had a soft heart when it came to kids and when it came to being involved in the community,” Painter said. “And if you were a friend and needed something, he was always there to help.”
Herschman loved sports and loved competition, plus he was an avid snow skier, water skier and hiker who enjoyed the challenge of treks to Mt. Tallac, as well as Pyramid, Freel and Jobs peaks. He also played recreation league basketball and as a second baseman for the South Tahoe Merchants fast-pitch softball team.
He met Dick Gardner through a mutual friend, Russ McLennan, and together with Ron Stowell they organized a softball team in the mid-1960s that played city league ball and traveled to tournaments. On occasion the Merchants played before crowds that numbered in the hundreds.
“We played in Reno, Carson City, Gardnerville, Sacramento, and one year we played at nationals in Las Vegas,” Gardner said. “We were together for about 14 years, and Hersh was always kind of the heart of our team.”
Gardner remembers persuading Herschman to take up tennis in the late 1970s.
“After the softball team disbanded, I was playing tennis a bit and I told Hersh, ‘You need to do something,’ so he started coming out to play with our group,” Gardner said. “He kept playing and kept getting better and better.”
Herschman enjoyed the banter and camaraderie, no matter what the sport, or even if it was a game of cards.
“He used to joke a lot. He would always talk trash to the other players, but he always did it in a joking manner,” Forvilly said. “I loved listening to him on the court. We would finish playing and then go over to the other court just to watch and listen to him. He was just fun to watch and he was quick witted.”
Call him a truly unique and special man.
“Hersh’s life was ordinary, like most of ours, but his relationships were memorable … and mostly unbreakable,” Painter said.
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