Attempting to make Santa Monica an attractive destination for people throughout the region, local leaders capitalized on a growing interest in sports and established a tennis tournament for area youths.

The year was 1916.

Organizers are now preparing to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Dudley Cup, a tournament that remains a beloved emblem of local recreation.

The rich history of the annual event will be highlighted during this year’s landmark edition, which will be held March 26-27 and April 2-3 at courts throughout the coastal city.

Members of the tournament’s steering committee have been gearing up for the centennial for months.

“We’re excited to do this,” committee spokesman Bill Polkinghorn said. “We want to remind people of its status in Santa Monica. It’s the longest-running sports event in Santa Monica. It pretty much started before the First World War.”

Named for Thomas Dudley, a former Santa Monica mayor, the tournament over the years has featured numerous players who went on to achieve fame as tennis professionals. Venus Williams participated in the Dudley Cup as a youngster. So did Jack Kramer, Gussie Moran and Tracy Austin. Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, who later competed in the notorious Battle of the Sexes, have taken part as well.

Perhaps the next big star is among this year’s pool of what organizers expect to be about 300 boys and girls ages 10-18. The youths will flock to Santa Monica from across Southern California and beyond to compete in singles and doubles brackets. The registration deadline is March 21, Polkinghorn said.

Headquartered at Reed Park at the corner of Lincoln and Wilshire boulevards, the Dudley Cup will also host matches at the Ocean View courts, Santa Monica High School and the Riviera Tennis Club. The finals for all brackets will be staged at Reed Park.

William Nissley, who has served as the tournament’s director for more than 40 years, will be honored as part of the festivities. Expected attendees include Mayor Tony Vazquez and State Sen. Ben Allen as well as many of Nissley’s former students.

“He labors selflessly and exhaustingly to operate these tournaments on a shoestring budget,” Polkinghorn said. “We want to personally acknowledge him.”

Organizers also want to acknowledge the longevity of an event that has cemented its status as one of Santa Monica’s enduring traditions.

When the tournament was launched a century ago, Dudley purchased two large silver cups as trophies for the male and female champions. It was determined that players who won the event three years in a row could keep the cup. Such was the case with Harvey Snodgrass, a student from Manual Arts High School in Los Angeles who took the boys title in the first three editions of the Dudley Cup.

John Byers, an area architect and Samohi teacher, was an early supervisor of the tournament.

He promised that players would be “royally entertained,” according to an archived Los Angeles Times article from 1919. And that goal remains unchanged.

“Is this just another tournament to put in the books? No,” Nissley said. “It’s a special thing. So we have to make it special.”

jeff@smdp.com

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