Dennis Malick is 82, and his man cave is on life support.
Malick still has all his original parts from the day he was born into a family of butchers in the hard coal country of Pennsylvania.
That’s more than can be said for his 1990 Toyota Corolla out front of his home on Hilton Head Island.
But it’s not enough to keep him in that house, which now seems gigantic to Malick and his wife, Carol.
They’re looking for their next perch. It will be much smaller, and the man cave won’t live to tell the story.
Today, it tells a lot of stories.
Most of them are about Malick’s purpose in life on Hilton Head since 1981: tennis promotion.
But a larger story grips me as we creep around the room beneath a philodendron vine that circles the ceiling among dangling wooden tennis rackets. The vine dips down by your ear if you sit in the Wallace Ladd memorial rocking chair that honored a friend who had a heart attack and died on the tennis court while playing doubles with Malick. “Good to the last drop shot,” reads the plaque on the chair that served as a trophy to the annual winner in the Hilton Head Island Independent Tennis League.
Looking around, you see the bigger story and it’s really kind of sad. It is this: Who cares?
Who cares about the actual banana on the wall, circa 1998? It’s a shriveled, black reminder of the Banana Open tennis tournaments that Malick ran for years. They were full of life, pulling hundreds of players for a lot of goofiness along with competition to a tennis haven where Stan Smith, Rod Laver, Billie Jean King and Dennis Van der Meer put down stakes to their own claims to fame.
The jolting truth is that one man’s treasure someday becomes that same man’s ... trash.
Malick was an only child, and he has no children.
“I don’t have anybody to even think I can give this stuff to,” he said.
Venus and Serena Williams
Caps are everywhere on the wall, but one has autographs of Venus and Serena Williams.
They signed it in April 1992, when they were 10 and 11. They played an exhibition match against Billie Jean King and Rosie Casals during the Family Circle Magazine Cup women’s tournament that was played in Harbour Town for 25 years. It was played before the singles title was won by Gabriela Sabatini, who once dared to drive her motorcycle into Sea Pines.
“They were just kids,” Malick recalls. “Nobody was talking to them; everyone was paying attention to Billie Jean and Rosie.”
He has posters and photographs signed by Martina Navratilova. They’re from the days she practiced at the Port Royal Racquet Club before going to Wimbledon. Malick said coaches Craig Kardon and Billie Jean King ran her ragged with drills all morning, and in the afternoon, she played matches against local pros, all men. None of them ever beat she of 59 Grand Slam titles.
Political cartoons and Christmas cards from Malick’s 24-year career in newspapers before he switched to tennis promotion hang amid the plaques and awards. They’re by Bob Zschiesche, who drew for the Greensboro (N.C.) Daily News in the 1960s and 1970s, and died in 1996.
“You pronounced his name like a sneeze,” Malick said. “I’m going to send those to the Greensboro paper.”
Malick came to the island from Virginia Beach, Virginia, when Van der Meer, the great teacher of teaching pros with a Tennis University on the south end of Hilton Head, hired him to come do marketing and promotions. After three years, Malick and Bunny Williams got the contract to run the tennis program at Hilton Head Island Beach & Tennis Resort, and subsequently he worked at the Port Royal Racquet Club.
On the wall is a yellowed editorial from The Island Packet noting the quiet impact of the Spring Break Tennis event run by Malick. The idea is simple, but powerful. It came from Bunny Williams, who invited eight college women’s tennis teams to the island in March to compete.
“That grew to our biggest year of 272 college teams and more than 4,000 players coming during the month of March,” Malick said.
He was told he should have gotten a cut of the real estate sold to the parents who came to the island and were smitten.
In what used to be a bedroom closet is a photograph of Malick’s elementary school in Shamokin, Pennsylvania, “one building, one teacher, eight grades.” There’s his Penn State, class of 1960, mementos. He was editor of the Daily Collegian and majored in journalism.
That apparently gave him freedom to hound our paper when he sees headline bloopers and grammatical errors, and allegedly not enough coverage of his events. But his greatest losing battle is preaching that “Island” is part of the name Hilton Head Island.
And on the man cave wall is a letter to the editor thanking Malick for his letter to the editor that suggested women rule the world because men had done enough damage.
He has a photograph of his grandfather standing beside the meat wagon that he ran for 50 years without missing a day.
It seems a far cry from the large photo or Malick framed in bright yellow. He’s sitting in a yellow convertible at Hilton Head Island Beach & Tennis, wearing a crown of bananas.
“Everything in the picture is borrowed,” he said. “The car belonged to John Sturm of John’s Music on New Orleans Road.”
On the floor is a scrapbook titled, “Topspin the Book.”
Topspin was a cat that showed up at Beach & Tennis. She made a nice lap warmer on cold days. But she hated dogs, and boxed them like Muhammad Ali. She once bloodied the nose of a dog, Malick said.
But it turns out there was a pack of wild dogs in the vicinity, and that was the end of Topspin.
Malick knows there is no tennis museum or tennis hall of fame on Hilton Head to give this stuff to, even though the island has more tennis courts (300-plus) than many countries do.
He knows they still have artwork and stuff stashed under beds that came from Carol’s mother, who died in 2017.
“You can’t get rid of it,” he said. “It’s going to be a big bonfire. There’s nowhere for it to go.”
Malick faces a familiar, gut-wrenching chore in life. We see it a lot around here. A number of people have brought their island keepsakes to me, the human lint trap of the Lowcountry, when they downsize.
I read in a magazine that “the goal of downsizing is to keep possessions that reflect who you are now, not who you were then.”
Malick said, “At this point, it’s not sad. It’s time.”
He’ll keep sifting, even if he can’t find what he’s looking for. But he always finds 14 other interesting things.
“Really, I can’t part with this stuff,” he said. “But it’s got to go.”