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Durban - Tennis great Bob Hewitt has been dropped from the South African Hall of Fame in the wake of his suspension from the International Tennis Hall of Fame after a probe of claims that he sexually abused girls he coached.
General manager of the South African Sports and Arts Hall of Fame (Sasahof), Ryan McGee, confirmed this on Friday. Hewitt’s name had been removed from the list of inductees.
This came as International Hall of Fame chief executive, Mark Stenning, announced a unanimous vote on Wednesday to suspend him indefinitely after an outside investigation deemed credible the allegations of several women who said they were abused by Hewitt while he was coaching them decades ago.
“His legacy ceases to exist in the Hall of Fame,” Stenning said. “As of today, his plaque will be removed from the Hall of Fame. His name will be removed from our website and all other materials, and from the perspective of the Hall of Fame, he ceases to be a Hall of Famer.”
The Australian-born Hewitt won 15 Grand Slam titles in his heyday in the 1960s and 1970s. He retired in 1983, and was inducted into the hall in 1992.
By Friday morning, Hewitt’s name had been erased from the roll of 224 global Hall of Famers. It no longer appeared on the alphabetical list next to the famous world No 1 of the 1950s, Australian Lew Hoad.
The only South African still on the honours list at the Hall of Fame in Newport, Rhode Island, is Frew McMillan, Hewitt’s partner in what was a legendary doubles team. They won Wimbledon three times, and many other major tournaments.
Attorney Michael Connolly of the firm Hinckley, Allen & Snyder, who the Hall hired to conduct the inquiry, said he interviewed more than 24 people over several months.
The former federal prosecutor spent 10 hours interviewing Hewitt, who was accompanied by two South African lawyers, in September. But he would not characterise those discussions.
Connolly said: “We identified as many of the victims as we could, spoke to them, spoke to their family members and spoke to a host of others with relevant information.”
The lawyer made a final presentation to the Hall in New York on Wednesday.
Stenning and Christopher Clouser, the Hall’s chairman, also travelled to South Africa to interview Hewitt.
“In the beginning, we were slow to start because this was entirely unprecedented ground for us,” Stenning told the Boston Globe.
“But we didn’t take the matter lightly. We expended tremendous resources and time on it and feel comfortable that we have done the right thing.”
In a letter to every member of the Hall of Fame, Stenning described the suspension as “the appropriate course of action for the Hall of Fame, for the women who have made these allegations, and our sport”.
Amanda Wienhold of Durban, among the nine or so women who came forward, told the Daily News on Friday:
“I would like to applaud the International Hall of Fame.
“I know this has been a very long investigation for them, spanning different continents, and would like to thank them for all their effort.
“I hope the SAPS investigation will yield the same results so we can all finally have some peace and move on,” she said.
Suellen Sheehan of Johannesburg said: “When we embarked on this we set out to have him removed because we didn’t feel he belonged.”
“We have expended huge amounts of energy. I can’t say I woke up this morning feeling different because I haven’t slept. But I feel like I’m walking on air.
“My work is done. In terms of the criminal matter, that is in the hands of our justice system.”
She was 12 when Hewitt first allegedly had sex with her after a coaching session.
Hewitt, now 72 and living near Addo in the Eastern Cape, has denied the allegations. In a recent interview with You magazine, he said: “Overnight my life changed for the worse. It’s been traumatic for us all.”
Heather Conner of West Newbury, Massachusetts, said she had just turned 15 in 1976 when Hewitt had sex with her.
Conner filed a report with police more than two years ago, accusing Hewitt of rape.
She also reported the allegations to the Hall of Fame in 2010, and the US Tennis Association and Women’s Tennis Association.
On Friday a children's rights group also welcomed the suspension of Hewitt from the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
“WMACA (Women and Men Against Child Abuse) applauds the Hall of Fame whose decision reflects that children's rights must be protected at all times,” spokesman Luke Lamprecht said in a statement.
In the months after the Globe report, the tennis community slowly began to express outrage. Among them was Billie Jean King, an inductee and life trustee of the Hall of Fame who partnered with Hewitt in 1970 to win the mixed doubles title at the French Open.
“I’m very upset, and he needs to be in jail,’’ King told the Washingtonian magazine in June.
In the evidence against Hewitt are several handwritten love letters he allegedly sent one of his students, Twiggy Tolken. Tolken, who said Hewitt became sexually involved with her when she was 12, provided copies of the letters to the Globe and Hall of Fame.
Stenning said Connolly hired a handwriting analyst to examine the letters before he presented his findings to the executive committee.