Her home away from home was any tennis court in and around Joplin, with her grandparents, parents and sisters shaping her career. To Melissa Hoffmeister Sanders, they collectively put her in position to dominate for Joplin High School as she won 132 matches and a state title in the early 2000s.
“Each of them played a role in helping me accomplish the things that I did on the tennis court,” Sanders said. “My parents were, without a doubt, the most influential people and my biggest source of support and encouragement. I wouldn’t have had the opportunities I did or experience the successes that I was fortunate enough to enjoy without them.”
Now her career is being remembered by the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, which will recognize Sanders with a Wynn Award during its Women’s Sports Luncheon presented by the Bee Payne-Stewart Foundation. The luncheon is at 11 a.m. March 30 at University Plaza Convention Center in Springfield. A sponsorship table of eight is $400 while an individual ticket is $40 and a head table ticket is $100. For tickets, or congratulatory ads in the printed program, call the Hall of Fame at 417-889-3100.
The luncheon features the induction of the All American Red Heads Basketball Program, former Missouri Southern State University Athletic Director Sallie Beard, two basketball coaches – Evangel University’s Leon Neal and the University of Missouri’s Dr. Joann Rutherford – as well as former Lockwood High School volleyball coach Cheryl Shores. The Hall of Fame also will bestow the President’s Award on Jodie Adams, the longtime leader of the Springfield-Greene County Park Board.
Sanders is among the eight recipients for the Wynn Awards, named in honor of Dr. Mary Jo Wynn, the pioneer of women’s athletics at Missouri State University, a 1999 Missouri Sports Hall of Fame inductee and 2014 Missouri Sports Legend. The awards are presented to former high school, college and pro athletes for their contributions in athletics.
A Joplin High School graduate, Sanders was a Class 2 state tennis champion in No. 1 singles in 2005, completing a high school career in which she was 132-13. Along the way, she was All-State as a freshman and junior, plus became a four-time champion of both the Ozark Conference and district tournaments. Sanders later earned three letters at the University of Arkansas, helping the team win the Southeastern Conference West Division in 2008 and reach the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament. She later served as the head coach of the Evangel University tennis team and currently works for the United States Tennis Association as the District Administrator for Missouri in Springfield.
“Sometimes I wonder how I was able to come out on top (at state),” Sanders said, noting that Joplin High School coach Sean McWilliams was a positive influence, too. “I felt like the underdog in both the semifinal and championship match. I think being in that position made the victory that much more special.”
The Wynn Award recipients will be Tara Bailes (Springfield Catholic High School/Missouri State soccer), Teresa Baird Beshore (Springfield Catholic High School/University of Tulsa tennis & basketball), Chelsea Taylor Corp (Sarcoxie High School/Missouri State-West Plains volleyball), Aleah Hayes (Ozark High School/Texas Tech University/Columbia College volleyball), Tonya Choate McCall (Mount Vernon High School/Drury University/Cactus Tour golf), Amanda Newton Plotner (Republic High School/Drury University basketball), Melissa Hoffmeister Sanders (Joplin High School/University of Arkansas tennis) and Sophie Cox Stagner (Rolla High School/University of Tennessee-Martin soccer).