He was one of the best tennis players in Missouri State University history, plus grew the game as the tennis teaching pro at a local country club and, later in life, piloted Springfield’s professional tennis franchise for 14 years.

For Tom Adams and tennis, however, it wasn’t exactly love at first sight.

“My brother had a tennis racket and encouraged me to take lessons,” Adams said. “There were 52 people, and I got to hit only two or three balls. I didn’t like it.”

Fortunately, the game found a spot for Adams and, in turn, it was a perfect fit. And the success that followed – at Missouri State, Hickory Hills Country Club and then 14 years as general manager of the Springfield Lasers – was remarkable. Which is why the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame proudly inducted Adams with the Class of 2020.

A 1966 Parkview High School graduate, Adams was one of Missouri State’s top tennis players, earning varsity letters from 1966 to 1969 as he compiled a 51-9 singles record and 49-11 in doubles. He won a Missouri Intercollegiate Athletics Association championship in No. 1 singles and was runner-up in his other three seasons.

Additionally, he partnered with Dave Hart to win an MIAA doubles title, and the two were a runner-up twice – plus reached the semifinals of a national tournament, played in an armory on a wood court.

Adams later assisted then-MSU tennis coach Charlie Spoonhour (MSHOF Legend 2019) and was the men’s tennis coach from 1975 to 1977. His 1975 and 1977 teams were MIAA runners-up, and the 1976 team won the league – its first MIAA title in 18 seasons.

And all that as he served as the tennis pro at Hickory Hills Country Club in east Springfield.

So, what changed that made him fall in love with the game?

“The city built Phelps Grove Park tennis courts before the end of my eighth-grade year, and I grew up nearby on Portland Street,” Adams said. “Steve Grace, Dave Hart, Jack Weimer and Lynn Morris – everybody started playing tennis. Since they liked it, I thought I’d give it another try. I found out that I was good at it, and I think I got to where I was beating all the guys.”

Soon, Doc Busiek, Gerald Perry, Charlie Harman and Roger Holstein became mentors.

“These guys were so serious about it that we would scrape the snow off Doc Busiek’s courts in the winter,” Adams said. “One day it was 18 degrees, and we put a trash can by the courts and started a fire to keep the tennis balls warm so they would bounce. We played for two or three hours.”

Perry enhanced Adams’ game by placing three cans in the service court and taught him the importance of developing an excellent serve, challenging him to hit a particular can. Eventually, he developed a powerful serve but also became skilled in volleying.

Missouri State offered him a tennis scholarship.

“I just had fun playing the game. And we had so many good players to play with,” Adams said. “Most of my days would be giving six hours of lessons for the Park Board, playing some at Phelps Grove until the lights went out and then going home and stringing tennis rackets.”

In 1971, Hickory Hills’ Dr. Peter H’Doubler and Dr. Jerry Long sought out Adams to start a tennis program. The club had only two courts initially, but Adams grew the game to the point that the club held nightly league matches and built two more courts. He held that role into the late 1970s.

Unfortunately, because of a hand injury, Adams walked away from the game. In the early 1980s, he moved to California, working for International House of Pancakes (IHOP) and later helping expand Honey Baked Hams.

Adams returned home in the late 1990s and was hired by the Springfield-Greene County Park Board to be the GM of the Springfield Lasers, a World TeamTennis franchise. In his tenure, the team featured numerous notable names and brought in some of the game’s biggest stars for a match and to promote the sport.

For Adams, he cannot help but thank so many for his career both as a player but also as GM: his wife Darlene, late older brother Jim and sister Jodie Adams (MSHOF 2004). His grandparents were big on the local bowling scene.

“My parents were so supportive. My dad said, ‘Be humble in everything you do.’ And I am,” Adams said. “I was very fortunate to be in this great sport.”