BAY CITY, MI — Bruce MacDonald slid in behind the wheel of his gray, Chevy convertible and BJ Tally hopped in beside him.
Two teenagers having the time of their lives in the 1950s, they hit the open highway for a grand adventure as next-door neighbors, best friends and tennis partners.
The fact that they were on the road to history – about to become Bay City Central’s first-ever state champions – was only part of the thrill.
“All those years of hitting tennis balls, I wasn’t focused on winning tournaments,” said MacDonald. “I was just having fun with great guys like BJ Tally.”
That road trip to Kalamazoo for the high school tennis state finals would forever link MacDonald and Tally in local sports lore. Together, they won the 1957 Class A doubles crown. Now, 65 years later, their feat remains unmatched.
Wed Nov. 13, MacDonald and Tally join forces again for induction into the Bay County Sports Hall of Fame. They’re among nine individuals and two teams that form the Class of 2022 that is being honored at the DoubleTree hotel and conference center in downtown Bay City.
Bay City Central was a local power in boys tennis during the 1950s, reeling off seven Saginaw Valley League championships during the decade. MacDonald and Tally stood at the heart of it.
MacDonald would go on to shine with the University of Michigan men’s tennis program, lettering for four seasons and helping the Wolverines capture the Big Ten championship in 1961. Tally would add a singles state title for Bay City Junior College then star as the No. 1 singles player at the University of Detroit from 1960-62.
And they both trace their tennis roots to the same set of courts, situated in the Carroll Park neighborhood where they grew up.
“Our equipment was not very good at all — nylon string and a really oversized grip,” Tally said. “I didn’t know any better, I just went along with whatever I got. Nobody ever told me ‘You can’t swing that thing.’”
The neighborhood was bustling with tennis players, the likes of Kim Chapin, Farrel LeVasseur, Bob Learman and NCAA champion Mark Jaffe. MacDonald and Tally followed in those footsteps, one year apart but quite often side-by-side.
“Having a next-door neighbor like BJ was a godsend,” MacDonald said. “We must have spent years of time on the court hitting the ball, having a lot of fun and making it work.
“He was one year behind me, but we were kind of like brothers. We traveled together and did a lot of good stuff together. The Tally and MacDonald families were joined at the hip.”
Frequent competitors in age-group tournaments like The Bay City Times or North East Michigan Championships, they seemed to bring the best out in each other with their matching talents and similar mindsets.
“We were both fighters, both diggers,” Tally said. “If we played each other, it would be a flip of the coin who would win.”
As teammates at Central, they were both part of three league championship teams and each had regional singles titles on their resume. But when the 1957 season rolled around, neither would find himself in the singles ranks.
Central coach Zit Tessmer saw an opportunity to score big points at the state finals by pairing up his top players as doubles partners. Along with fellow doubles competitors Tom Meisel and Chuck Crampton, the Wolves just might have a shot at keeping up with Hamtramck, the state’s preeminent tennis dynasty.
“There was only one reason in 1957 that Bruce and I played doubles,” Tally said. “We were doing our damnedest to beat Hamtramck.
“It was a team effort and the goal was for the team to win a state championship — and we had no qualms with it. We knew from a team standpoint, that was our best chance.”
The regional in Midland played out as scripted, with MacDonald and Tally defeating Meisel and Crampton in the final and both squads advancing to the state finals. The state tourney format awarded one team point for each singles win and 1.5 points for each doubles win. If both Central doubles tandems could make a strong showing, the Wolves would have a chance.
So they hopped in MacDonald’s sweet ride, put the top down and cruised on down to Kalamazoo College for the grand tourney. And drama ensued.
“I was riding in the back and had my arm over the side,” Tally said. “Bruce got out and closed my finger in the door. If that would have been my right hand, the ballgame would have been over.”
Meisel and Crampton did their best, bowing out in the quarterfinals with a three-set loss to Holland – a painful one after Central finished second in the team standing to Hamtramck by a 1.5-point margin. MacDonald and Tally, meanwhile, knocked off rivals from Birmingham and Owosso to reach the semifinals and earn a return trip the next day.
“It was hotter than the dickens,” MacDonald said. “We stayed at a downtown Kalamazoo hotel, and it was so hot, we wound up sleeping on the floor the night before the finals. We just couldn’t get any air conditioning. So we were a little groggy going out there, but it didn’t take long for us to get going.”
They may have caught a break when Jackson’s Dick Nixon and Ron Johnson knocked off Hamtramck’s top-seeded Ray Senkowski and Bill Bradford in the quarterfinals. MacDonald and Tally turned around and ousted the Jackson squad 6-1, 6-3 in the semifinals then powered through Dearborn’s Mark Wayne and John Tinetti 6-1, 6-1 in the title match to forge their place in history.
No doubles team from Bay County has won a state title since that day.
Tennis would remain part of the fabric of MacDonald and Tally long after their state championship glory. After notable collegiate careers, they continued to compete in USTA events well into adulthood and – at age 83 and 82, respectively – their tennis racquets are still close at hand.
MacDonald went on to spend 52 years with the US Army, serving as an Airborne Ranger and combat infantry officer. He also traveled the world as vice president of global communications for General Motors. He and wife Joyce reside in Oakland County.
Tally returned to his hometown after college, operating his law practice in Bay City from 1966-2000. He and wife Barbara raised their children Brian and Kristin here before moving to Hilton Head in retirement. He now resides in Davidson, North Carolina, where he plays tennis twice a week and pickleball twice a week.
Tickets are now on sale for the Nov. 13 Hall of Fame banquet. Cost is $50 for a ticket or $80 for a ticket plus a Lifetime Membership. Lifetime Members receive a ballot each year to help select upcoming induction classes. Tickets are available during office hours at Bay City Central or online at www.baycountysports.com.
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