Fraternities and Tennis
by Tony Spiridakis
The Spiridakis family arrived in Sunnyside in 1949. My father bought a two family house 41-50 48th Street on Colonial Court, located at the outer edge of Sunnyside Gardens, on 48th Street at 43rd Avenue. Our home was one of 6 two-family units surrounding a park where kids learned to play softball and basketball. On a clay court next to the park, I learned to play tennis, a game I have enjoyed playing for 63 years. This arrangement of house, park and tennis court was a godsend for parents like mine who both worked, and for me and my brother Nick, who spent much of our childhood playing outdoors. Sunnyside was a wonderful place to grow up - safe and friendly - we were outside playing all day with our friends.
I started out in second grade at P.S 150, and have since learned that a classmate of mine - Arthur Blank - eventually became the CEO of Home Depot. When P.S. 11 opened, I was transferred in, and went on from there to J.H.S. 125. Bryant High School was of course a special high school for many of us. Eugenie Marek, Richard Burgtorf, Bill Swinburne and Caroline Planavsky were a part of our group that would arrive early and just hang out together.
One time, the boys decided to start a fraternity, and I can remember going into the City to order our fraternity sweaters from Paragon Sports. I can’t remember our 3 Greek letters but the idea was to indicate how close we were. The sweaters arrived, and as a group - eight of us - we came to school early to impress the girls. Sadly, on our first day out, the sweaters lasted all of five minutes. We were called into the principal’s office, and told by Mr. Wolfe that fraternities were not allowed in the New York public school system, to take the sweaters off immediately.
Colonial Court Park was where we learned to play sports, especially tennis on its one clay court. I can remember at the age of 12 being paid a dollar for lining the court with lime on Saturday and Sunday for the 12 male members. White was the dress code for the men, and one can of balls was used for the day. The kids were given the old balls to play with. At some point, a member invited a group of us to learn how to play, and that was the beginning of my lifelong love for tennis. Bill Swinburne, Jane Saul and others were part of the first group to take lessons from Chris Noll who lived on Skillman Avenue.
My first job at 14 ended in disaster. I was hired (with some trepidation) by the dry cleaning store on Queens Boulevard. My first delivery was to an address on 43rd Avenue, which I unfortunately confused with 43rd Street. It was a hot summer day and I kept transferring the clothes from arm to arm. By the time I got to the correct address the clothes needed another pressing. I returned to the store only to find a ‘pink slip’ was waiting for me. Ouch!!
All ended well that day as I won my first tennis tournament. Jane Saul played with my brother Nick and I played with John C. First prize was a plastic model ship from Bliss Sporting Goods. What a great way to end an otherwise not-so-great day.
Following school, I worked with Olympic Airways for 35 years in California where travel benefits were many, affording me and my wife Caroline many opportunities to travel the world over. Now in retirement, we live in an over 55 community in Delaware, and are more active than ever.