Pickleball Points: RIP Harvey Hastings, and stay in touch


I periodically try to share the pickleball experiences of my friends, as well as my own.

Over the last three years, I have been active in every aspect of pickleball. But one responsibility I shirked was to make sure I stayed abreast of extended family.

I recently met Kevin Reading of Abbott’s Grill, a pickleballer, who reminded me of a small version of my cousin — a fellow who I would exchange emails with every year so we could update each other about family. My cousin had not responded the last few years, and I just didn’t follow up to find out why. Bad on me!

As funny as it might sound, I met my cousin giving him tennis lessons. He being eight years older, we lived in two different worlds — his boxing and mine tennis — and then he went off to the military. Harvey went to Korea, and then I joined during that other Asian attraction.

After the military, I was giving tennis lessons to a big fellow at Ocean Pines, Md., with the same name as my cousin. After a series of questions spliced between tennis tips, I discovered he was, in fact, my cousin. At the time, he was using tennis as just one of his exercise routines to prepare for a major world kickboxing championship.

Big and strong he was. He worked very hard in the tennis sessions, never mentioning a word about the other training he was enduring. And fast! He would sometimes bring balloons to practice and afterwards have me toss them in the air so he could break them with a fast punch that was too difficult to even see.

Naturally, coming from the cowardly part of the family, when he might ask where I wanted him to hit his forehand in the drill, “Anywhere you want, Harvey.”

He taught me much about the teachings of the Asian martial arts and how they might apply to tennis instruction. The one I most remember: “It is not what you say, Grasshopper. It is what they hear,” and delivered at the exact moment, like a lethal punch.

There were legendary Harvey Hastings stories. One that comes to mind is about a violent melee that broke out behind an Ocean City, Md., nightclub where two rookie cops lost control. In stepped Harvey, and the narrator of the story said the observers were hunkered down behind buildings and cars.

He went on to explain that they would first see one bad guy, and then another, come flying out head-over-heels across various automobiles parked there. I don’t know where this fit into his various black-belts timeline, because he was quite serious about the martial arts, self-control and only using his skills defensively. Perhaps he justified it as defending the rookie cops.

He already had black belts in judo, Gogu Ryu, and Isshinryu karate when we were using tennis as part of his training. He had become a student of Bando-style fighting and was about to receive his black belt. In a 1975 extensive interview in Black Belt magazine, it was explained that Bando might be the most brutal of all contact sports.

At this point, a few years after our tennis lessons, he gave up all his earthly possessions except a two-wheel bicycle, which he peddled for 3,000 miles to continue to study his martial arts. He said, “When you are not under pressure of having to protect the things you acquired, then you can become more conscious of the things around you... people, the earth.”

Some 15 years later, while home on vacation, my family visited Harvey several times at the restaurant he then owned on the Wicomico River. Perhaps sitting on the side of road in Florida on a hot day with a flat bicycle tire, he might have decided that material things are not all that bad.

By then he had accomplished most of the serious titles in the martial arts world — but never mentioned a word of his accomplishments. He only acknowledged he was still active in the martial arts, and we discussed life, family and food.

His private mission, through martial arts, was to absolutely lose as much ego as possible. Yet, of his 64 professional and amateur full-contact fights, he won 62 straight, losing only his first and last fights.

Actor Chuck Norris was a friend and periodic guest at his house here on the river. Norris can be seen as referee in one of Harvey’s championship matches on YouTube.

I was saddened to recently learn Harvey passed several years ago. I was totally unaware of it, immersed in my pickleball world. I took just a portion of notes from his two page obituary:

• Marine Corps heavyweight boxing champion;

• Black belt in judo and in Gogu Ryu in 1954;

• Black belt in Isshinryu karate in the 1960s;

• Black belt in Bando in the 1970s;

• U.S. Heavyweight Kickboxing Champion;

• Head official for the NKL (National Karate League) and PKA (Professional Karate Association).

• He trained top ranked kickboxing and pro-karate fighters Jerry Rhome, Joe Corley and Steve Shepard, and was the center referee for many world title bouts.

• He founded Hastings Real Estate in Ocean City, and formed the Mt. Vernon, Md., Volunteer Fire Company.

• Wrote poetry, short stories and articles on karate. Studied and performed opera.

• Authored two Western novels — a historical fiction trilogy on the Oregon Trail, and an autobiography.

• Inducted into the Isshin-Ryu Hall of Fame in 2009.

Not bad for a boy from the Delmarva Peninsula. That evening, after discovering his obit, I opened a bottle of bubbly and toasted Harvey Hastings for a life well-lived. Tonight, after pickleball, reach out and call your sibling, or cousin, or parents, and then stay in touch.

Adieu, Harvey Hastings.

Vaughn “The Baron” Baker is a Senior Olympics gold-medalist in pickleball, and is public relations director for the First State Pickleball Club (FSPC) and captain of the Ocean View Crew pickleball community. He spent his career working with top tennis professionals while working for Wilson Sporting Goods and introducing the Prince Tennis Racket and Wimbledon Tennis Lines. For more information, visit PickleballCoast.com.

By Vaughn Baker
Special to the Coastal Point