Thursday, August 9, 2012

Reflections on 95th Annual ATA Nationals

Chuck & T. A. in Puerto Rico, June 2011

For some, such as my old friend Chuck Hitt, who is 93, a quarter of a century isn’t all that long. For someone like me, it is half a lifetime. It had been that long since I ventured into the world of ATA tennis. The last time was both bitter and sweet. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, in that ATA/NETA event at Yale in New Haven, I won a coveted prize and spent a painful few hours in the hospital. 

Amp Myers delivers championship trophy
This time around at the tennis Club of Fort Lauderdale in (you guessed it) Fort Lauderdale, Florida, it was all sweet, with just a tinge of sadness. The sweet was hanging with some old mates from back in the day and winning the Men’s 50 Division at the 95th ATA National Championships. The sad was noting the significant decrease in the size of the draws over the past twenty-five years.

Wilson Blade Team BLX
Once I noted, pondered and got over the draw sizes, it was all good. The Wilson racquet-Kirschbaum string combination (BLX Blade Team racquet, and Pro Line Evolution 17 strings, respectively) worked their magic for me once again. Funny, how things work. I wasn’t thrilled at the time, but it is a good thing that the Babolat rep didn’t honor his word and get back to me, because I might not have captured my second National 50s title of the 2012, and I might not have these delusions of grandeur.

Val Wilder
What delusions you might ask? Well, as unrealistic as it may be, I am setting a goal of winning the USTA Men’s 50 Clay Court Championships held at the Bath & Racquet Club in Sarasota in October. Why is it unrealistic? Well, let me put it this way: The two players in the final last year, Val Wilder and Mark Vines were ranked as high as No.105 and No.110, respectively, on the ATP Tour in their heydays. And by the way, Wilder won the National Grass and Clay Court Championships last year, and the ITF Seniors World Individual Championship this year.

Having a good time!
But enough with delusion and back to the reality of the ATA event. The competition may not have been close to the standard that I will encounter at the USTA Nationals, nor even the USPTA Nationals, but the camaraderie was far superior. There aren’t many fist bumps during matches at USTA and USPTA events. At the ATA Nationals, there was the sense that, although you want to win every match, the sharing of a good time, on and off the court, is just as important as winning. You won’t find that at USTA and USPTA events. 
Players & spectators hang out

Interacting with players of African descent from just about every state in the Union, and a few other countries as well was a treat for me, since it was vastly different than any other tennis event I’ve played in the past 25 years! Players of vastly diverse backgrounds, with a wide assortment of skill levels, ranging in age, literally from eight to over 80, made the ATA Nationals experience unlike any other I have had in decades. 

Katia Jordan- Girls 18 Champion
Watching someone like James Clayton win the 60 and 65 Singles, and Mixed 60 Doubles with Mildred Azizi of Glenside, Pennsylvania was inspirational. Observing the fire that Girls’ 18 Champion Katia Jordan of Pikesville, Maryland brought to the court was uplifting. Having Lonnie White of Moultrie, Georgia, my final opponent, agree to play at 8am Friday morning, after having spent several 
hours on court the previous day, finishing some time after 9pm, was mind-boggling.  Even more jaw-dropping was the fact that tournament officials ran an event at two sites that included 52 adult and 42 junior draws! 
Lonnie White & T. A. after final

Willie Emerson & Amp Myers run tourney desk
I’m not sure who ran the junior site, but Amp Myers and Willie Emerson, with ample assistance from the roving umpires and other volunteers, kept things moving along with the adults as well as or better than one could expect with that many draws and matches to manage. Kudos to the team!

It would be totally impractical for me to try to list all the event winners, but some of the champions demand mention by virtue of their herculean accomplishments. I’ve already mentioned three-event winner James Clayton of Washington, Maryland, but how about Lisa Robinson of Roswell, Georgia, who won the Women’s 45 Singles, the 35 Doubles with Sherrie Barnes of Atlanta, Georgia, and Mixed 40 Doubles with Mark Williams of Delray Beach, Florida.

Lonnie White volleys while
Amp Myers looks on
In addition to running the tournament desk with Willie Emerson, doubles specialist Amp Myers managed to win the Men’s 45 Doubles with Lonnie White, the Mixed 35 doubles with Sherrie Barnes, and Mixed 45 Doubles with Tenagne Yohannes, both of Atlanta, Georgia! There were a number of two-event winners as well.

Harrell Thomas
Harrell Thomas of Jacksonville, Florida, one of Florida’s Junior Team Tennis pioneers, who claims that he hadn’t played a tournament in five years (I ain’t believin’ it), won Men’s 55 Singles and teamed with Stan Myrie-G of St. Croix, Virgin Islands to take 55 Doubles as well. Marcus Freeman of Dallas, Texas also claimed a double, taking the Men’s 75 Singles and Doubles with Hatcher Day of Mansfield, Ohio. Chuck Jones of Glenside, Pennsylvania took Men’s 35 and 40 Doubles with Ralph Simpson and Tim Pope respectively. 

Alice King of Chester, Virginia won both the Women’s and Mixed 45 Doubles, the former with Rachel Brown-Wright of Chesterfield, Missouri, the latter with David Barnes of Upper Marlboro, Maryland. In addition to her already mentioned mixed win with James Clayton, Mildred Azizi also won Women’s 60 Doubles with Cecilia Hodge of Philadelphia. In the rated divisions, Elaine Parker of Baltimore, Maryland won the Women’s 3.5 Singles and teamed with Ivy Dench, also of Baltimore, to win the 3.5 Doubles.

Stan Myrie-G, T. A., Harrell Thomas
All in all it was an experience worthy of repeating, and I hope the ATA Nationals are within reach again 2013. I’d love to defend my title. I may work on a double or triple, but I don’t think I could pull off three titles in three different divisions like Lisa Robinson did. I think I’ll just stick to my own division.

James Walker volleys with
Chuck Nelson in background
Thanks to Oliver Stenger of Park Meadow, Jarrod Gore, Chuck Nelson, and James Walker, all of whom ran me around the court in preparation for the event. A shout out must go to Tim McClary who drove across the alley to check out the event, and Cap't Jim Garner who stuck till the end. 

Jim Garner & T. A.
I probably wouldn’t have survived the heat without MaJiC Noone’s creation, and nothing happens without Steph’s love and support! And those of you who email and text your support, it is truly appreciated! I’m looking forward to the next time. Game, set, match…T A  PS: Pictures of the event can be viewed here for adults, and here for juniors

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