During Hank Bessinger's playing days at Fresno City College, he always feared American River tennis star John Spoerl, who won most of the time they played.
But the pair became respectful rivals and good friends. So when Bessinger received a terrifying phone call June 19 and learned Spoerl had been in a serious car crash, he knew he had to do something to help.
Bessinger's answer is the John Spoerl Doubles Tournament, a benefit scheduled for 9 a.m. Saturday at the Fresno City College courts.
Proceeds will be used to help Spoerl, 26, pay for hospital and recovery bills after the crash left him with three broken vertebrae and shattered nearly every bone in the lower half of his body.
"I feel this is the event that transcended tennis and sports, more than the game itself," said Bessinger, now the Rams' first-year men's coach. "This is what life is about, by helping someone out when they're down. This means so much because John had a huge impact on my life. I feel inspired to be a part of his recovery process."
Bessinger got Vivint Solar to match up to $10,000. Any size of donation will be accepted, and Spoerl, a long road ahead but at least out of the hospital, is expected to attend.
Ironically, Bessinger found out only months before the accident that life was going pretty well for his old friend.
Spoerl had been adrift academically for a while after his 2008 season at American River, but when they met up in April he told Bessinger of a renaissance. Spoerl's mother had died in 2010, and it was she who always challenged him to match in the classroom what he achieved on the court.
Spoerl used his mother's memory as inspiration to get back to work in school. He achieved straight A's and had earned an athletic and merit scholarship to NCAA Division II school Holy Names in Oakland, Bessinger said.
Weeks later, Spoerl was in a hospital bed. A large work truck, traveling at a high speed, had swerved into his lane and hit him head on in the Northern California city of Rio Vista, Bessinger said.
During a visit, Bessinger gave away one of the treasured mementoes of his career -- the award from his 2009 state doubles championship with Rams partner Joao Nogueira.
"When I went to the hospital to see him, his accident touched me so much," Bessinger said. "To see him overcome what happened to his mom ... I gave him my medal."
For information on making donations: (559) 797-2648.
The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6042, firstname.lastname@example.org or @agalaviz_TheBee on Twitter.