Sally Ride played Billie Jean King in doubles match at tennis camp in 1972

Astronaut Sally Ride played in a doubles match against tennis great and personal hero Billie Jean King when she was a counselor at the TennisAmerica Camp in Nevada in 1972.

According to the book Sally Ride: America’s First Woman in Space, Billie Jean King stopped by the camp after her latest Wimbledon victory in August 1972 and participated in a doubles match with camp director Dick Peters against a 21-year-old Sally, who partnered with camp owner Dennis Van der Meer. The ballboys at the exhibition match played before a crowd of 200 cheering campers were campers Martin Luther King III and his brother Dexter, according to the account in the book, which includes a letter Sally wrote to her friend John Tompkins:

I got to rally with BJK in the warmup and (hold onto your seat) didn’t miss a shot – on the other hand, she didn’t either. Dennis served first, and imagine my surprise when, 4 points later, we changed sides ahead 1-0 (after I won a point of a mildly difficult volley, and bowed to the wild applause. 8 games later, I held serve to put us ahead 6-3…unfortunately, we decided to play an 8 game pro set (first team to eight) so instead of winning the set, we ended up losing 8-7. I played nothing short of spectacular (for me), got in all kinds of pictures, and even got to sign a couple of autographs while BJK was being besieged by pen and paper…why…SHE even told me I have a good backhand, and fair reflexes…so I’ve decided to quite tennis, and retire my racket, shoes, socks, and sweatsuit. See you at the ping-pong table.

Anyway, my illustrious career has reached its climax–I’m afraid it’s all downhill once you’ve played the #1. We may schedule a rematch for tomorrow, but she doesn’t seem overly eager. I should probably quit while I’m not too far behind.

In addition to her tennis skills, the book’s author Lynn Sherr notes that Sally was also known for her ability to write silly camp song parodies of Simon and Garfunkel tunes for the talent show and was the kind of counselor “campers wanted to hang out with.”

Matt Ralph

Matt Ralph

I'm the editor of Summer Camp Culture and also blog at and I live in the Philadelphia area and went to camps and camp meetings growing up in Ohio, Maryland and New Jersey.

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