Ross Cutter knew how to get the Whitworth campus excited about tennis. He introduced a popular ritual known fondly by faculty and students as the “Ceremonial Opening of the Balls,” over which a member of the Whitworth community was invited to preside at the beginning of each match.
Cutter arrived at Whitworth in 1958 as an assistant professor and head of the physical education department. Over the next three decades he was best known for his work as tennis coach. During his coaching tenure, he won six Evergreen Conference championships and five NAIA District I championships. He also led the Pirate men’s team to a 4th-place NAIA finish in 1961 and an 8th-place finish in 1969.
Cutter coached three academic All-Americans, was president of the NAIA Tennis Coaches Association in 1971-72, and was a member of the NAIA National Tennis Tournament Committee for 18 years. Upon his retirement, in 1991, the Northwest Conference of Independent Colleges established the A. Ross Cutter Award, given to an outstanding male tennis player. He was inducted into the NAIA Coaches Hall of Fame in 1986.
A 1975 Whitworth feature story described Cutter as “perennially healthy, energetic and cheerful. His walk has the unmistakable spring of an athlete, and you’re likely to misjudge his age by about 10 years on the short side.” People who know Cutter attest to his congenial nature, his proclivity for fun, and his particular way of speaking; some may even know he jokingly boasted that his professional roles included serving as chairman of the National Intercollegiate Groundhog Queen Contest for a number of years. He was famous among students for learning a student’s hometown, then providing firsthand commentary on the town’s dining establishments.
A California native, Cutter graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, with a bachelor’s degree and a doctorate in education, having received his master’s degree at the College of the Pacific, in Stockton, Calif. He taught and coached junior high and high school baseball in Stockton, spending his summers directing recreation programs in the Bay Area, before coming to Whitworth.
Though Cutter initially retired from Whitworth in 1991, he stayed on until 2007 as a faculty leader for Jan Term study programs in San Francisco. The Domain of the Arts Study Program introduced students to the Bay Area, where Cutter acted as a tour guide of sorts, introducing students to his favorite areas. He also worked with education majors who were fulfilling their multicultural-education placements. He and his late wife, Shirley, were deeply involved in church and civic activities. Cutter was inducted into the Heritage Gallery Hall of Fame in 1993.
In 1997, with the help of trustee John Scotford, Whitworth donors established the Merkel-Cutter Endowment, honoring Cutter and longtime head baseball coach Paul Merkel. The endowment is used primarily to fund capital projects for athletics facilities, existing facilities improvements, and senior awards for student-athletes.
When the Scotford Tennis Center was dedicated in 2005 as home to the new A. Ross Cutter Courts, tennis alumni and fans gathered on the courts overlooking the picturesque Back 40 to celebrate the courts’ namesake. As part of the ceremony, then-athletics director Scott McQuilkin, ’84, handed Cutter a familiar cylindrical can, bestowing upon him the honor of presiding over the Ceremonial Opening of the Balls.