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Tennis Fuels Life and Forever Friendships

By Matt Oechsli and Bruce Brodie

 

One would have to look long and hard to find a group of senior tennis players like the Saturday Morning Tennis (SMT) crew in Greensboro, N.C.  With the average age deep into AARP territory, north of 70 years (although it’s been rumored that some have been lying about their age), this collection of misfits understands their priorities. With 21 players, we fill three courts every Saturday morning, sometimes with room to spare due to our injured combatants.

As much as the sport of tennis consumes our SMT group, all of us play at least three times a week (unless injured), our obsession doesn’t help us remember the schedule– who’s playing this Saturday and who’s out.   Recently in two consecutive weeks, one of the crew, a physician who’s still working in his glory years, showed up to play only to discover he was not scheduled to play. His excuse, “I was looking at last year’s schedule.”  We all knew that he was hoping one of the crew forgot they were scheduled to play – so he could fill in.

The skill level can range from a 5.0 player playing at a 3.5 level, to a 3.5 player playing at a 3.0 level.  Regardless, we are a competitive force with one of our knuckleheads keeping score in the warm-ups (who hit the ball out the most times).  A third set in a Wimbledon final has nothing over our group’s tenacity fighting it out in a 7-point tiebreaker.  Few things are as entertaining as watching these chaps in action.  From trash talking to great shots followed by mishits that double everyone over in laughter, questionable line calls, nose-diving onto the court after tripping over their own feet – the SMT group doesn’t realize how comical they are.

We’ve even given SMT names or designations to our members. One is the Commissioner because we keep track (as much as possible) of scheduling. Another is the Enforcer; that person oversees deciding sticky situations like someone’s forgetting to get a sub, or similar infractions. Punishments for misdeeds may require a gift of beer or wine to the aggrieved parties. You get the idea. These SMT roles are treasured as much as our professional accolades.

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The old saying “actions speak louder than words” is in high gear during inclement weather.  Earlier this year, Greensboro had enough snow to shut down the city for a week, yet every SMT player made it to the courts.  It should also be noted that the outfits were hysterical, and there were tales of cars sliding down small hills sideways, doing a 180 through a red light – all for the opportunity to enjoy two hours of highly competitive, albeit not always top-notch, tennis.  Not necessarily the safest way to manage a North Carolina snowstorm.

To the uninitiated, this crew appears to be full of energy and highly athletic.  The reality is that we’re keeping our resident sports medicine physician solvent with knee replacements, shoulder replacements, back surgeries, bone spurs the size of walnuts, — the list goes on.  Ask any of us how we prepare to play, and you’ll get a list that ranges from Tylenol to CBD oil, to prescription pain drugs, to various creams and ointments.  Yet, we play as hard as our aging bodies will allow.  Our moments of glory are relished.

Sadly, we recently lost one of our SMT brethren, John Eatman, to a sudden heart attack.  One of the last requests from this Ph.D. information systems professor and computer maven was, “Please have a celebration for me at Sherwood (our tennis club).”  His nickname was Dr. Know because he was an ace tennis player and extremely knowledgeable (and successful) in work and life.  His family even adopted this name because he knew facts, people, and life; he passed along his knowledge with humility and kindness.

One thing we know for sure is that his ongoing legacy is true friendship on and off the court. His infectious passion, his commitment to teammates, and his love of the game (as a former college player and coach) represent tennis at its best. We remember our friend with every swing and every smile.

Editor’s Note:  Sports Fuels Life founder Herb Bolick is a member of the SMT Group and can attest that the information in this piece is mostly true. He is interested in your stories of how tennis or other sports have fueled your life and your friendships. Please send your thoughts to hbolick@teamconnection.com.