Move over, Janet Evans. Placentia's latest star, Michael Chang, the 17-year-old tennis phenom who won the French Open, is about to receive the red-carpet treatment.
"I just loved watching the French Open on TV over the weekend," said Mayor pro Tem Norman Z. Eckenrode, dripping with city pride. "Every time I heard (announcer) Dick Enberg say, when he referred to Chang, as 'this youngster from Placentia who just won't quit,' ooh, I got excited! I loved every minute of it."
Not since Placentia's Evans, the winsome teen-age swimmer who captured three gold medals in the Summer Olympics in Seoul last year, has the city of 38,477 been so excited, Eckenrode said.
Key to the City
Banners are scheduled to go up Wednesday. City workers will soon get busy fashioning a key to the city for Chang, who will also be invited to appear as grand marshal in Placentia's annual Heritage Day Parade in October. And a street is being renamed in his honor.
"It's been absolutely wonderful," Mayor Carol Downey said about Chang adding his triumph to those of Evans. "We are really proud of both of them but especially of Michael."
With Chang's win Sunday, the Placentia teen-ager became the first U.S. player to win the French Open since 1955 and the youngest player ever to win a Grand Slam men's singles title (Wimbledon or the U.S., French or Australian Open tournaments).
"He was just awesome," said Yolanda Melendrez, a tennis buff and member of the Sunny Hills Racquet Club in Fullerton, where Chang practices. "His shots against (Sweden's Stefan) Edberg were magnificent. But his being an American and a local yokel, well, it gives us something to relate to. We're very proud of him."
Chang and his parents, Joe and Betty Chang, moved from San Diego in 1987 to this 7-square-mile city in the foothills of northern Orange County. Incorporated Dec. 2, 1926, the city prizes its cozy, small-town atmosphere, although there is a growing movement toward development of the remaining rural land.
Described by friends as a shy youth who "comes alive" on the court in more ways than one, Chang enrolled at Valencia High School in Placentia when his family moved here. But extensive travel from his tennis career found him on the road almost more often than in classes, said Marvin Briggs, a Valencia school counselor.
Chang enrolled as a sophomore in September, 1987. By April, 1988, he left the school after passing the California Proficiency Exam, Briggs said.
"He was an excellent student," he said.
It was on the tennis court that Chang blossomed, athletically and personally. Although the young star was not on Valencia's team, he practiced with both male and female players and attended their matches.
"One interesting story about Michael is that when we won the 1987 girls' (league) championship, he would practice with them and attended all their matches," said Valencia Tennis Coach John Henry Cyrus III.
'Bless the Chinese People'
"He's a very intelligent and aware person who knows about the world and what's going on," Cyrus said. "I mean, look at his composure in interviews after he won the French Open. He said that some praise 'goes to God. And God bless the Chinese people.' He's only 17, but he's an intelligent 17."
Diane Ewing, a Valencia graduate who now attends Cal Poly Pomona, recalled when she was on the Valencia girls' squad and teamed with Danny Yu, a top male tennis player, to play against Chang.
"We lost, 6-1," she said. "And I think he let us beat him that one game too."
In Chang's neighborhood, a pricey new subdivision surrounded by the Alta Vista Country Club, neighbors are also planning a welcome for Chang after his scheduled competition at Wimbledon.
"It's a good feeling," said Susan Thacker, 21, "to live next to someone who is so young and who got so great playing tennis. We're very proud of him. We're from Chicago, and to have two top athletes who come from a somewhat small town like Placentia is really spectacular."
Actually, five athletic stars, according to Mayor pro Tem Eckenrode. Six months ago, he said, the City Council approved a decision to rename five streets near the Alta Vista golf course in honor of Chang, Evans and the other three athletes: Dan Petry, the California Angels pitcher; Fred Dixon, a decathlon star who made the 1980 U.S. Olympic track team (which did not go to Moscow because of the U.S. boycott), and Michele Granger, regarded as one of the best female softball pitchers in county history.