Did you know that a WSU business alum invented the yellow tennis ball?
The following was adapted from a post on wsuathletics.com.
Robert F. Langas, a native of Detroit and a graduate of Detroit Cooley High School, received five varsity letters and two freshman numerals in football and men’s basketball at Wayne State University. He lettered in football in 1949, 1950 and 1951, and earned a freshman numeral in 1948. In basketball, Langas lettered in 1949-50 and 1950-51, and earned a freshman numeral in 1948-49.
An outstanding football end and tackle for head coach Louis F. Zarza, Langas led the Tartars his junior and senior seasons in receiving. In 1950, Langas had 10 receptions for 181 yards and one touchdown, and in 1951, he made 19 catches for 206 yards and one touchdown. On the 1949 squad, Langas had three receptions for 31 yards. Defensive statistics were not kept in those days, but Langas started defensively all three seasons and was a leader on the line. He was chosen to serve as captain of the 1951 squad. On the Tartars’ basketball squad, Langas played at center. He had 78 points in 20 games his sophomore season, and 116 points in 23 games his junior campaign. Langas did not play basketball his senior year to concentrate on his studies.
In 1952, Langas graduated from Wayne with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration. That fall he entered the U.S. Army and, while stationed at Ft. Belvoir, he played football for a coach who would one day be one of the biggest names in the old AFL and the NFL, Al Davis. After the 1953 season, Langas earned Army All-Star First Team honors as an end. Upon his discharge in 1954, Langas was signed by the Cleveland Browns. He stayed throughout almost all of the pre-training before being released on waivers. He was picked up by the Baltimore Colts, winning a regular defensive end position. During the 1955 pre-season he was released again, ending his professional career.
During the 1954-55 off-season, Langas took what he thought was a temporary position with General Tire & Rubber Company (GenCorp) as a retail salesman. He would remain with GenCorp until his retirement in 1989. From 1961 to 1972, he served as a retail salesman and manager in GenCorp’s Penn Products Division, the company’s sporting goods division.
Though a very casual tennis player, Langas noticed that tennis as a recreation sport was beginning to become popular in the mid-1960s, especially indoor tennis. One of Penn Products' largest selling products was tennis balls. While on his sales routes Langas would get comments from buyers and tennis players that the old white ball was hard to see on indoor courts, especially under florescent lighting. Langas set out to create a new tennis ball, and came up with the yellow optic tennis ball which significantly increased the popularity of tennis.
In 1985, Langas was honored by Tennis Magazine as one of the twenty most influential people in tennis for creating the yellow ball. From 1972 until his retirement he worked at GenCorp’s DiversiTech General subsidiary in Denver, Colorado, as a national sales manager in automotive accessories and vinyl luggage sales.
In the 1960s, Langas was vice president of the Athletic Goods Manufacturers Association, a trade association.
In 1993, Langas was inducted into the Wayne State University Athletics Hall of Fame.