Wednesday, November 30, 2016


USMC Corporal Thomas "Tommy" Jardas
1993 - 2016
Note: You can access an audio/visual representation of the first five paragraphs of this blog post by clicking this linkYour device volume should be up to view the video.  

Do you savor special memories and competing sensations as
Photo courtesy of Fox News
you drive past your old high school? Or maybe the high school where your children walked the halls, frolicked on the field, mingled with other teenagers, they too, teaming with potential?

Now, can you imagine? You’re a mom, or Dad. You’re getting ready for work and you turn on the Today Show. You’re not totally paying attention, but your antennae always go up when there’s a story on the military. Of course; your 22-year-old son is a Marine stationed thousands of miles away.

Your preparations for work slow down, become trance-like,
Beth Haely & Tommy Jardas-
Photo courtesy of Brian Johnson 
as the sensation of doom drapes over you like a heavy shroud, slowly smothering you, before realization crashes into you, snatching your very breath away. A helicopter crash? Marines? Hawaii? You hit the ground in hysterics, knowing in your heart of hearts that that helicopter, is THE helicopter, the one your son maintained and risked his life on daily.

Can you imagine the next 11 hours, as you futilely seek
Sikorsky CH 53E Super Stallion
confirmation of what you already know deep down in your bone marrow? Was my son on the chopper that day? God, let it not be so! And then finally: “The Knock on the Door” that all parents, wives, husbands, brothers, sisters dread when their loved ones serve. Yes, my son was on that bird that flies no more. One phase of torture ends and bleeds into another.

The rescue mission is underway. Six days, six long days and endless nights the mission sustains your limbo. Hope and
Photo courtesy of Stacy Henson- News-Press 
Despair compete for dominance. Hope dies hard, but die it does as the declaration of what you already knew in your heart of hearts is made: The tragic training mission had ended in disaster. And yet, somehow, life goes on…

How might you feel, as a parent, sibling, friend, driving past
Tommy, Beth, & Haely
the high school your loved one attended? Driving past Cypress Lake High School has brought me mixed emotions for years, but those sensations will be even more intense for me now. You see, I only recently found out that USMC Corporal Tommy Jardas, a graduate of Cypress Lake High was killed while on active duty in the USMC this past January. Tommy was a promising 22-year-old at the time. The News-Press provided excellent coverage of Tommy’s return home.

Although moved by all untimely deaths that penetrate my consciousness, finding out that Tommy’s potential would
T. A. & Con back in the day 
never be realized hit close to home. Tommy attended Cypress Lake High School at a time when I was a frequent visitor there as a surrogate dad. Tommy’s sister Haely Jardas (Ms. District of Columbia, 2015-16) and Connor Zerilla (my surrogate son) were close friends. Connor and Tommy shared a birth date as well as mascot duties at Cypress Lake High…There is challenge, and then there is the challenge of tragedy.

As members of our tennis community are rallying around
Screen shot of GoFundMe page for Tommy's fund
initiated by Gina Cuoco-Barfield
Steph and me with our challenge (so minor in comparison), friends of the Haely-Jardas family have been rallying around Beth Haely (Tommy's mom); her FiancĂ©, Brian Johnson; and Tommy's sister Haely. The first public demonstration of the support they received was in the form of a GoFundMe effort initiated by Beth’s cousins Bruce and Haely Bates, and her friend Gina A. Cuoco-Barfield to build a memorial in Tommy’s name at Cypress Lake High School (lots of good info available at the GoFundMe website).

The original concept of the memorial project has grown; in fact, tripled in size. Initially consisting of a flagpole and
Cypress Lake High Memorial in Progress-
Photo courtesy of Beth Haely's Facebook page
plaque, support has been so strong, that the memorial currently includes, in Beth’s words: “over 500 sq ft of pavers with lighting 24/7/365; two 8' pergolas with 2 black powder coated steel benches with 2 royal palms and bushes boarder the area. The Black Granite Marker is over 7' and will stand in the middle.” Wow (Click here for progress)! The dedication of the memorial will be January 14, 2017 at noon. It’s already on my calendar.

The completion of that funding effort is drawing nigh, but
Flyer courtesy of Brian Johnson
there is a final push that directly involves our tennis community. Cypress Lake Country Club will be hosting the Corporal Tommy Jardas Memorial Tennis Social on Sunday, December 11, 2016, from 9:30 am - 12:00 pm. If you’ve been in this community a while, you know that they know how to do events at Cypress Lake.

The event is primarily a Cypress Lake member social, but guests and their checkbooks are welcome. There will be round robin tennis, racquet demos, silent auction, clinics, and a 50/50 raffle to make the giving fun. Court Sponsorships are still available, and you can always give above the suggested donation of $25 if you so desire. For general questions on the event, please contact Cypress Lake Country Club at 239-481-1333. If you have questions about items for the Silent Auction, please contact Beth Haely at 239-271-0009 or

Wait! I almost forgot the most fun thing- outside of the tennis of course- Love Boat Homemade Ice Cream will be on hand to honor Tommy, who worked there during his high school years. You might want to head over to the event just for the ice cream- it’s that good!

In any event, if you aren’t a Cypress Lake member, and don’t
The late Charles "Van" Middlesworth with
Alex Hermeto (right) at an FGCU Eagles match
know Alex Hermeto, Cypress Lake’s new Director of Tennis, from Pro League, this may be as good an opportunity as any to meet one of the area's most decorated tennis professionals. And, former Head Pro Terry See is always happy to share some smiles and his “firm-ish” handshake with everyone. Hope to see you there! Game, set, match...T. A.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016


Note: Click here for additional photos of the Challenge experience.

Paula Scheb is the hostess with the mostess
Paula Scheb, Director of Tennis at Bonita Bay Club, her staff, and the Bonita Bay management team are without doubt on the forefront of tennis and tennis event technology. That technological leadership was
A sample of Becky Salaun's drone technology photos
from the LED lighting by Techlight on several courts, the buzzing drone photography of Becky Salaun, Director of Communications/IT, to the live scoring provided by PlaySight.
Maybe I’m easily wowed, but when I traverse the grounds of an event and
Duke checking out the scoreboard technology
can tell from the live scoreboards posted in various locations what’s happening, I’m giving the event a thumbs up before I see a single point. Of course, you still need old-fashioned eyes to assist with some of that, and Bonita Bay always has a plethora of easily identified volunteers to help ensure that the event runs like a stream-polished stone…uh, that’s smooooth.

There’s no doubt that Bonita Bay Club is one of the premier tennis
One of the fantastic volunteers doing her thing
facilities in Southwest Florida, and the ongoing beautification of that facility is as inspiring as it gets in our area. But the reason that hundreds of spectators turned out for the 36th Naples-Fort Myers Challenge
The fans were the big winners
is because of the tennis. The 21 matches in such a wide variety of age groups, from Men’s and Women’s Open Singles and Doubles to Men’s 65 Doubles, offer something for every age group and level of player to enjoy.

One of the stories of the 2016
Courtney & CJ enjoying it
Challenge that demands to be told is the impact the FGCU Eagles had on the outcome. Although a number of FGCU alums took part in the event, it was the grit of current Eagles, both men and women, that tipped the balance of power in the Challenge. Five of the eight Fort Myers victories in the 4pm session came from the racquets of current FGCU players and coaches.

Men’s Coach C. J. Weber and Women’s Coach Courtney Vernon made quick work of their opponents with
Maya Ornberg leans into it
a 6-2, 6-1 victory in Mixed Open Doubles. In Women’s Open Doubles, junior Juliana Curtis and sophomore Julia Ascua posted a straight-set, but hard-fought win: 7-5, 6-2. Sophomore Javier Fernandez delivered another FGCU blow for Fort Myers, downing Tye Myers 6-4, 6-4
Javier Fernandez rips one
in a Men’s Open Singles contest. Maja Ornberg, an FGCU freshman, bounced back from a bagel in the second set, after taking the first 6-2, to claim the match tiebreak, 10-4 in Women’s Open Singles, the only women’s singles match of the event. The fifth and final win for the FGCU contingent…well, I’m gonna save that one for later.

The bottom line for those in attendance was that the 2016 Challenge offered as much drama as you will ever see in the challenge. After Naples
Juliana Curtis and Julia Ascua notch one for Fort Myers
jumped out to a 7 – 2 lead during the 2pm session, one might have thought that it was just another year for Naples to romp. After all, they’ve done so a number of times over the years, winning 31 of the previous 35 Challenges. But the Naples-Fort Myers Challenge has actually become a challenge the past few years, and Fort Myers fought on.

As the 4pm matches progressed, and the wins
Mike Curran & Pete Minarich- Challenge Captains
began to fall in the Fort Myers column, the excitement and anticipation were ratcheted up a few notches. It showed on the faces of both the Naples (Pete Minarich) and Fort Myers (Mike Curran) captains. Nearing the end of the 
4pm session, Fort Myers had claimed seven of the eight completed matches and led the Challenge 9 – 8 with one match still being contested. A win for Naples in that match would mean a  tied score going into the three 6pm marquee matches. 

And what a match that one was! I’ve been searching my memory
Championship Court view 
for a men’s doubles match that equals the quality of play, level of intensity, and sheer dramatic content as the match that pushed Fort Myers into the lead in the 2016 Naples-Fort Myers Challenge. As of this writing, I can’t think of a single one, at any level, that compares.

It was undoubtedly the match of the event, and it pitted FGCU’s
Oliver Landert delivers heat with Andres Alfonso at net
Oliver Landert and Andres Alfonso against Lucas Regas and Jose Luis Soto. With this much talent on the court, it should have been no surprise to anyone that this match was as scintillating as it was. In the Naples corner was Regas, formerly an
Lucas Regas & Jose Soto ready Naples Challenge defense
internationally ranked doubles player, who was once among the top 100 players in Spain. His partner Soto is a recent graduate of the University of Alabama Huntsville, where he played No.1 Singles and finished his career by winning 26 consecutive dual matches. Hardly chopped liver, eh?

In the Fort Myers corner, we had Landert, a Naples native who is
My shoulder would be in pain. No sweat for Andres
a junior at FGCU, and who posted 31 total wins for the Eagles during their 2015-16 campaign. His partner, Andres Alfonso, is a senior at FGCU who plays the top spot in singles and doubles, and who posted 34 wins for the Eagles last year. He’s as good an all-around player as the Eagles have on the roster.

Now, a lot of doubles matches have deteriorated (in my opinion) into singles rallies crosscourt from the baseline with the net
Lucas Regas blisters a backhand while
Jose Soto prepares to poach
person making an actual move to cut a ball off every election year or so. Okay, maybe it isn’t quite that bad, but…Anyway, this match, this incredible momentum-swinging match, was everything but the hit-the-ball crosscourt-until-somebody-makes-an-error kind.

Serve-volley, groundies ripped down the middle, down the line,
One of Andres' crazy gets
incessant poaching, angled flicks of the wrist, lob-overhead sequences, mad sprints for deft dropshots…Man! This match had every tennis shot and doubles strategy on display. Yes, there were even some of those crosscourt rallies, but they didn’t last long, and were not the norm in this match.

In addition to the dynamic display of superb shot-making, the
Jose Luis Soto prepares for backhand return
match went to three tiebreaks, and the outcome hung suspensefully in the balance right down to the final point! To give you some idea of how intense and hard-fought the match was, it was one of the 4pm matches, and I believe two of the scheduled
How about this for courtside tech!
6pm matches were just about wrapping up when they finished the almost-three-hour slugfest. How does 7-6 (6), 6-7 (4), 10-8 grab you? Well, it surely grabbed just about every spectator who remained on the premises.

This is what tennis competition is all about. Fort Myers, after
Fort Myers climbing back into contention
trailing 7-2 at the end of the 2pm session, had moved ahead 10-8 after the 4pm round, and only needed one more win from the remaining three matches to claim their second victory in four years. While some may want to point to the historical Naples domination (the challenge now stands at 31-5 in their favor), Naples Captain Pete
Diane Geater & Pete Minarich exchange greetings
Minarich sees it another way: “I prefer to frame it as we’ve split the last 4 years at 2-2. The Challenge has never been better than when Paula began hosting at Bonita Bay and Mike became Ft. Myers’ captain. The event has come down to a tiebreaker or two for the past 4 years and it’s the real deal- a true battle where every match really counts!”

Pete was like a kid in a candy store this past Saturday, and you
won’t see Mike much more jubilant than he was that night, even
Mike Curran & Dominique Levin close out
2016 Challenge with a win- Photo courtesy of Tara Curran
before he and Bonita Bay Head Pro Dominique Levin won the final match of the event in straight sets. I know Paula, her staff, and the sponsors (Ritzman Tennis Courts, Yonex, Techlight, PlaySight, Five County Insurance, and Bonita Bay Club) were pretty pleased with the outcome of the 36th Naples-Fort Myers Challenge. If you were there, I’m sure you were too. See you at next year's Challenge! Game, set, match...

T. A. & Steph