McCandless tennis enthusiast still swinging strongly after 64 years in game

| Wednesday, Dec. 25, 2013, 9:14 p.m.

At age 74, Bill Hinkel said his tennis game might not be getting better, but it is getting smarter.

Hinkel, of McCandless, is a lifelong tennis enthusiast and a staple in the North Hills tennis community, where he works with about 100 students to improve their finesse, skill and strength on the court.

“I'm 74, going on 27,” said Hinkel, who after 64 years in the game still plays seven days a week and has no plans to slow down his athletic pursuits.

Hinkel, a retired certified public accountant who worked for U.S. Steel Corp., has operated his tennis school, Mr. Bill's Tennis Academy, for 10 years at his backyard tennis court and at the Lakevue Athletic Club in Middlesex Township, where he holds clinics four times a week.

“Age is only a number,” Hinkel said. “I know some people who are 40 and pretty old. ... You have to fight the aging process every day.”

Ken Jakub, 46, of McCandless has taken private lessons from Hinkel and attends his clinics and said age hasn't slowed Hinkel down.

“He's 74, and he's firing these balls at you,” Jakub said. “He doesn't hold back.”

In addition to running Mr. Bill's Tennis Academy, Hinkel also is on the board of the Pittsburgh Project, a nonprofit organization based in Pittsburgh's North Side neighborhood, where he used to run summer tennis clinics for inner-city children.

Through Mr. Bill's Tennis Academy, Hinkel works with high school students, senior citizens, children and adults looking for a social way to get in shape.

Many of Hinkel's students are competitive athletes, but winning isn't the No. 1 priority for the tennis instructor.

“Winning isn't important, but wanting to win is,” Hinkel said. “You have to try for every point.”

He said the three reasons people play tennis are fun, fitness and friendship, which he calls the three F's of the game.

“Tennis is very social. People love to get together to play the game,” Hinkel said.

Lisa Uric, 50, of McCandless never played tennis before she began taking lessons with Hinkel five years ago.

“He's incredibly wonderful to work with,” Uric said. “He has such a passion for the sport.”

Uric and her sister, Lorelei Laffey, of Wexford, took several private lessons at Hinkel's home before attending his clinics. Uric now sends her son Michael, 11, to Hinkel and hopes Michael will make his high school's team.

“I think Bill is really the poster child for tennis as a lifestyle,” said Uric. “He's in top shape.”

The sport has been a lifelong passion for Hinkel, who was the son of a tennis instructor and began playing at age 10. By the time he was 13, other children and high school students were asking him to help them improve their skills, he said.

Hinkel played on the varsity tennis team at the former Westmont-Upper Yoder High School, near Johnstown, and won a four-year tennis scholarship to the University of Pittsburgh, where he compiled a match record of 73 percent wins in singles and 80 percent wins in doubles, he said.

Though Hinkel never achieved his dream of becoming a professional tennis player, he kept active in the tennis community even after college.

For 32 of the past 35 years, Hinkel has attended the U.S. Open, where he also participates in the national Tennis Teachers Conference.

“It's such an exciting game,” Hinkel said. “I stay current who those who do the job and are the best.”

At U.S. Open matches, Hinkel has met tennis greats such as Serena and Venus Williams, Billie Jean King, Arthur Ashe and Novak Djokovic.

At a conference several years ago, he even got Venus Williams to sign a poster for children involved with the Pittsburgh Project.

“The kids could not believe this poster signed by Venus Williams to the kids at the Pittsburgh Project,” Hinkel said. “Life presents these little opportunities. You just have to keep an eye out for them.”

Kelsey Shea is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6353.

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