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BRINKER, MAUREEN CATHERINE CONNOLLY

BRINKER, MAUREEN CATHERINE CONNOLLY (1934–1969). Maureen (Little Mo) Catherine Connolly Brinker, tennis champion, was born on September 17, 1934, in San Diego, California, the daughter of Martin and Jessamine (Gillan) Connolly; her father was a lieutenant commander and athletics officer in the United States Navy. Although not a native Texan, Maurine spent the later years of her brief life in Dallas, where she was an active leader in the development of junior tennis programs. The Connollys divorced when Maureen was a young child, and her mother later married and divorced a musician, August Berste. Maureen grew up with and was raised by her mother and a great-aunt. At her mother's urging, she studied singing and dancing as a child and also enjoyed horseback riding. In 1944 she began playing tennis on municipal courts in San Diego. Her first coach, Wilbur Folsom, instructed the talented ten-year-old to switch from playing left-handed to right and coached her through her first tournament, in which she was a runner-up.

Maurine's career continued to advance under the direction of Eleanor "Teach" Tennant, who had coached such tennis stars as Bobby Riggs and Alice Marble. With Tennant's instruction, Maurine won the girls-fifteen-and-under division of the Southern California Invitational Tennis Championship in 1947. As she continued her tournament career, she quickly won more than fifty championships and in 1949 became the youngest person ever to win the national junior title. By 1950 she was the tenth-ranked woman player in the United States, and in 1951, the year she graduated from high school, she was selected to play on the United States Wightman Cup team, the youngest player ever chosen. From 1951 to 1954 Maureen Connolly dominated women's tennis worldwide. She won the United States Women's Singles Championship in 1951, 1952, and 1953; the French Singles Championship in 1953 and 1954; and Wimbledon in 1952, 1953, and 1954. In 1953 she became the first woman to win the grand slam of tennis, with victories at the national championship tournaments of Australia, France, Great Britain, and the United States. This feat was not repeated by a woman tennis player until Margaret Court in 1970. The Associated Press named Connolly female athlete of the year in 1952, 1953, and 1954. She earned her nickname "Little Mo" from sportswriters who likened her explosiveness on court to the powerful battleship USS Missouri, which was based in her hometown of San Diego in the 1950s. During her time of tennis stardom she also worked occasionally as a copy girl and columnist for the San Diego Union.

She was frequently compared to such tennis greats as Helen Wills and Suzanne Lenglen, and in later years such stars as Chris Evert evoked memories of Connolly. She was described as a calm but fierce competitor with legendary mental concentration, though she was a friendly teenager with interests in music, dancing, and movies when she was not playing tennis. She was a baseline specialist with an especially strong backhand.

Maureen Connolly's amateur tennis career was cut short in July 1954, when she injured her right leg in a horse-riding accident. After realizing she would never return to her previous level, the twenty-year-old announced her retirement from tennis, in February 1955. Shortly thereafter she became engaged to Norman E. Brinker, a United States Navy officer and former member of the United States Olympic equestrian team. They married in June 1955, and the couple had two daughters. After her retirement from tennis Maurine Brinker spent much of her time coaching younger players. In 1963 the Brinkers moved to Dallas, where they opened a new restaurant chain called Steak and Ale. In Dallas, in an effort to acknowledge the assistance she had received as a junior player, Mrs. Brinker and Mrs. Frank Jeffet established the Maureen Connolly Brinker Tennis Foundation to advance achievement among junior tennis players in Texas. This foundation has remained an active organization for junior tennis through its tournaments, awards, and financial support. It also sponsored a women's tournament in Dallas for many years. Maurine Brinker was active in equestrian sports in Dallas. In 1968 the city honored her as Woman of the Year for her work with its youth, and in that same year she was elected to the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

Maureen Connolly Brinker was diagnosed with stomach cancer in 1966. She died in Dallas on June 21, 1969, survived by her mother, husband, and two daughters. She was buried in Hillcrest Memorial Park in Dallas. The year before her death the Maureen Connolly Brinker annual tennis tournament was started in Dallas in her honor. An award in her name was established shortly after her death by the foundation and the United States Lawn Tennis Association to honor outstanding junior girl players. The foundation has since established many other programs and awards bearing Maurine Brinker's name.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Dallas Morning News, June 22, 23, 1969. Owen Davidson and C. M. Jones, Great Women Tennis Players (London: Pelham Books, 1971). Dictionary of American Biography. Virginia Wade and Jean Raferty, Ladies of the Court: A Century of Women at Wimbledon (New York: Atheneum, 1984).

Debbie Mauldin Cottrell

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Debbie Mauldin Cottrell, "BRINKER, MAUREEN CATHERINE CONNOLLY," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fbr54), accessed July 26, 2014. Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.