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Originally published Tuesday, July 3, 2012 at 2:51 PM

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Tennis Hall of Fame in RI investigates abuse claim

The International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport has hired an attorney to investigate allegations that former doubles champion Bob Hewitt sexually abused girls he coached, an inquiry that could result in his expulsion or suspension from the Hall.

Associated Press

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. —

The International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport has hired an attorney to investigate allegations that former doubles champion Bob Hewitt sexually abused girls he coached, an inquiry that could result in his expulsion or suspension from the Hall.

The Hall of Fame's chief executive officer, Mark Stenning, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that a lawyer with the Boston firm Hinckley Allen Snyder is interviewing people who say they were abused by Hewitt, who played in the 1960s and 1970s and was inducted into the Hall in 1992.

The lawyer, Michael Connolly, will prepare a report for the Hall's 24-member executive committee to help determine whether the Hall should seek to expel or suspend Hewitt or take no action, Stenning said.

No one has ever been expelled or suspended from the Hall, about 30 miles south of the state capital, Providence. Stenning said the Hall's bylaws were changed in April to allow for it, but he declined to go into the details about how that would happen.

Hewitt, 72, won several Grand Slam events during his decades-long career. The Hall's website calls him an "enduringly elegant player" and a "master of the doubles craft."

The AP was not immediately able to contact Hewitt, who lives in South Africa and has not been charged criminally.

The Weekend Post newspaper in South Africa quoted him in September as saying, "I only want to apologize if I offended anyone in any way."

Among those recently interviewed as part of the Hall's inquiry is Heather Conner, of West Newbury, Mass. She says she was sexually abused by Hewitt starting at age 15, when she says he forced her to have sex with him near a high school in Massachusetts.

Conner, who has spoken publicly before and agreed to be identified, is critical of the Hall for not taking action sooner and said she wants to see Hewitt expelled.

"I would think that that would be something," she said.

The AP typically doesn't identify people who say they were sexually abused, unless they agree to be named publicly.

The Hall of Fame's former president Tony Trabert initially promised an inquiry last year, but Stenning told The Boston Globe in May that none was being conducted.

Stenning said Tuesday that had changed. The Hall should have taken steps to investigate more quickly but is now "doing the right thing," he said.

"In hindsight, we certainly could have handled this more swiftly," he said.

Stenning said the statute of limitations for criminal charges in the United States has expired but it doesn't apply in South Africa.

He said he didn't know how many women Connolly is interviewing as part of his inquiry. He said Connolly's report could be presented to the Hall's executive committee this month.

Connolly declined to offer any specifics about his inquiry.

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