‘Sonny’ Sumner, Former Successful Baylor Tennis Coach Of ‘60s and ‘70s, Dies

Friday, March 23, 2018 - by John Shearer
Ira Leonard Sumner
Ira Leonard Sumner
- photo by Baylor 1973 yearbook

Ira Leonard Sumner, who was an assistant and later head coach of Baylor School’s tennis team when it was a perennial state and even national tennis power more than four decades ago, died Tuesday. 

His daughter, Elizabeth “Randi” Sumner Wafler, sent an email to Baylor friends saying he had died after a six-year battle with Alzheimer’s Disease. 

Coach Sumner, who was known as “Sonny” during his time at Baylor, came to the private school in 1961 as an English teacher and assistant coach to Jerry Evert, the uncle of top former women’s playing pro Chris Evert. 

He assisted coach Evert while the team became a powerhouse playing on clay courts located where the Baylor Fieldhouse and swimming facility now sit. 

After assisting with such standout players as Zan Guerry, coach Sumner took over the program as head coach in the fall of 1968 and won national interscholastic team championships in 1969 and ’70. He served as head coach through the spring of 1974, and also won three state championships. 

His teams also won 71 consecutive matches. 

Among the players on his teams during his years as head coach were Roscoe Tanner, Brian Gottfried, David Dick, Joe Garcia, Forrest Simmons, Tony Ortiz, Buzz Willett, Jamie Howell, Tony Webb, Wes Cash and Pem Guerry, among others. 

In 1974, he left to become headmaster at Deerfield-Windsor School in Albany, Ga., and was replaced as Baylor head coach by the late Jon Chew. 

Beginning in 1979, Mr. Sumner served as headmaster at Presbyterian Day School in Memphis for 21 years. 

He was born Oct. 30, 1935, in Greenville, S.C., and was a graduate of Clemson University. He had a noteworthy career as a tennis player, serving as captain and No. 1 player at Clemson and winning several city and state titles. 

He received his master’s and doctoral degrees from UTC and University of Memphis, respectively. 

During his years at PDS, he served terms as president of the Memphis and Tennessee Associations of Independent Schools. 

Upon his retirement, the TAIS honored him with the Sawney Webb Award for distinguished service to independent schools. PDS honored him by naming the school library Sumner Library. 

As a hobby, Mr. Sumner studied and admired grizzly bears for many years and participated in grizzly bear institutes in the Glacier and Yellowstone national parks. 

He is survived by his daughter, Elizabeth Wafler (Porter); a son, Robert Sumner (Mary), and two granddaughters, Olivia Wafler and Katie Sumner. 

He was preceded in death by Sibyl Sumner, his high school sweetheart and wife of 53 years. 

Services are scheduled to be held at Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis, with burial in Memorial Park. 

In lieu of flowers, memorial gifts may be sent to the Alzheimer’s Association or the Teachers’ Endowment Fund at PDS. 


Coach Sumner with his team
Coach Sumner with his team
- Photo2 by Baylor 1973 yearbook

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