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October 28, 2015 04:22 PM
Toby Smith tells the story behind the story
On occasion readers want to know where I get my ideas.  Often they come from people responding to the “suggestion box” at the end of this column. Now and then I get ideas from a simple causal remark.
In late January of this year, I received from Alan Dils, the retired coach of the UNM men’s team,  an email that had come to him from Linda Estes, the retired UNM director of women’s athletics.  Linda mentioned  that in 1978 two Lobo women tennis players had gone to Cuba to play in a tournament. Not the Cuba in New Mexico, but the island nation in the Caribbean.
This scrap of information caused me to sit up. In fact, I reread it three times.
In 1978, I was a staff writer for the Albuquerque Journal. I did not then cover UNM tennis, but I did write tennis features for the paper and I followed UNM sports. I had absolutely no recollection of such a trip.
Cuba at the time, of course, was closed off to almost all Americans. Under the thumb of communism, Cuba was still considered by the majority of U.S. citizens to be a scary place where human rights were regularly violated.
I dashed off a note to Alan asking for more information. Alan in 1978 was a young teen who lived in Belen; he had no personal knowledge of the trip.  I wrote Linda, for she had had accompanied the two tennis players Cuba.  She gave me their names—Therese Sullivan and Mindy Sherwood. She said the coach of women’s team, Larry Lindsay, also went.  In fact, he was the impetus for the trip.
In a subsequent telephone call, I pestered Linda for more details. The four had gone to Cuba for a “friendship tournament,” she said. Players from three or four other countries took part. The Americans were welcomed warmly, yet they weren’t allowed to go to certain places. She couldn’t remember too much else. Linda, who lives in Hawaii, had some photographs and a few souvenirs, but they were locked in a storage shed in Albuquerque.
Not to worry, I thought. This clearly was a historic event, and as such there was sure to be plenty of information and pictures in the UNM athletics department files.

Boy, was I wrong.
In early February, I spoke to Therese Sullivan, now Therese Sullivan MacLeod. She lived on Cape Cod and talked with a lively accent that seemed part-Boston and part-New York. When I told her what I was doing, she said, “Oh, moi Gawd!”
Therese, who had grown up in Brooklyn, had been a fine junior player in the East and was highly recruited by Estes.  She told me that Mindy Sherwood, the other Lobo player who had gone to Cuba, and her best friend on campus, had died in 1995.
I found Larry Lindsay in New Jersey, where he now practices law. He couldn’t provide a whole lot of information. Somewhere, he believed, he too had a few photos. When I got them, they weren’t very good. Meanwhile, I bugged Therese again and again for anecdotal material.
Turns out the UNM athletics department had nothing about women’s tennis from the 1970s.  Media guides? Gone. Photos? Gone.  News releases? Gone? The trip brought only minor mention in Albuquerque’s two daily papers. The UNM student newspaper did not publish a word about it.
This was not a clandestine outing, by any means.  It had been approved by the U.S. State Department. However, for one reason or another, the media had simply ignored the trip. Sad to say, but in 1978 women’s college tennis occupied a very low rung on the fan-interest ladder.
I pieced together the story as best I could and sent it to the Journal. The sports department asked about art; I emailed what little I had. The Journal hung on to the article for a few weeks. I was beginning to think that the story would never run. Finally, space opened up, and on April 19, 2015, the article appeared, headlined “A Forgotten First.” Those words seemed fitting for the group of from UNM included the first two female athletes from the U.S. to compete in Cuba since the 1959 revolution. Forgotten, because few were aware the trip had even occurred.
Like a lot of writers, when I finish something and it gets published, that’s usually the end of my relationship with it. Not this time. In early October, I received an email from Therese MacLeod.  She was coming to Albuquerque for a couple of days later in the month. She would be there for a wedding and would have a mini reunion with three women who played for New Mexico and who still lived in Albuquerque. She hoped I would join them.
I wrote back and said I would be delighted.
We arranged to gather at the Lobo Tennis Club, more formally the Linda Estes Tennis Center. In 1978, the club was basically a trailer and couple of courts on a deserted stretch of dirt.
TobyLadyLoboIt was a warm sunny Saturday morning when I finally met Therese—in person. When she saw me, she shouted, “I can’t believe it!” We hugged.
With her were Helen Harbert Horn, Linda Kopriva McClanahan and Monica MacVicar Cloak. All of them had competed for the Lobos at various points during the mid to the late 1970s.  I had interviewed Horn, long ago, though neither of us, on meeting again that recent morning, could recall the reason. I knew Kopriva  from watching her play after her days at UNM.
Through the years, the four Lobos stayed in touch, sharing news of jobs and marriages and children. But they didn’t see much of Therese.  In fact, Therese hadn’t been in Albuquerque for 20 years.  The last time she had been here was to attend the funeral of Mindy Sherwood Montes, her  roommate and doubles partner, a victim of brain cancer at age 38. The October occasion that sent her back to New Mexico was bittersweet. She came to attend the wedding of Mindy’s daughter, Sarah Montes.
LoboLadiesTennis, I learned, continued to tug at the four women. MacLeod coaches the girls’ team at Mashpee High School, in Mashpee, Mass. Horn coached the UNM women for four years in the early 1980s. She now coaches the girls’ team at Eldorado High School and McClanahan is her assistant. Cloak also coaches at Eldorado, but her sport now is golf. She maintains an interest in tennis, however.
I asked Therese’s former teammates if there was envy among the Lobo women. They looked at me oddly. I meant, I said, was there jealousy when Sullivan and Sherwood were selected to take part in that ground-breaking Cuban adventure?  Astonishingly, none of them had any memory of it at all. In fact, the first they knew about it was reading my article this spring in the Albuquerque Journal, 37 years after it happened. That trip truly was a forgotten first.
You can read the whole story in the Albuquerque Journal online.  Here’s the link:  
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