In a corollary to the age-old question, “The Chicken or the Egg,” one might have stood and watched the crowd of seniors at Carrboro’s Wilson Park tennis courts last Wednesday morning and wondered at the conundrum.
Which came first, the tennis or eternal youth? Does some fountain of vitality fuel the interest in local tennis, or does tennis simply keep its enthusiasts young? In truth, it’s probably a little bit of both, but whichever the case, both local senior tennis and the seniors themselves are going strong.
Alan McMillan, who turns 90 in July, was among those nearly two-dozen seniors playing at the tennis event co-sponsored by Carrboro Recreation and Parks and the Durham-Orange County Community Tennis Association.
“I’m the oldest one in this group, and they pick on me,” Alan McMillan with a wry smile. McMillan said his secret to eternal youth was “good embalming.”
“My wife tells me I’m a damned old fool playing tennis at my age,” McMillan added, laughing.
David Duddles, who claimed that his age was “somewhere in the 85 category,” said that tennis has literally added life to his years and years to his life.
“I had a heart attack on my first day of retirement in 1992,” he said. “A couple months later, my doctor said I had start exercising harder then that I ever had in my life. Then I got the idea that a guy I (knew) was a tennis player, and I asked him to teach me tennis. We worked at it hard, and it did the trick. My cardiologist here in Chapel Hill sees me once every two years or so…[and] I won my age bracket for the state in singles tennis.”
The Carrboro Recreation / DOCTA event invited players aged 50 and above to bring a friend or two and meet other tennis players from this area, join in a game of doubles, win prizes, and enjoy light refreshments, all free of charge.
Carrboro Recreation and Parks recreation supervisor Dana Hughes was on hand to help manage the event, which capitalized on the thriving senior tennis culture that already exists locally.
“A lot are already playing tennis, and we just wanted to add something to that with this event,” Hughes said. “Carrboro Recreation and Parks provide the refreshments and coffee, and this is the third one of these we’ve done. This is with DOCTA, and they’ve traditionally co-sponsored this: we both just wanted to do something for the seniors.”
DOCTA is a non-profit organization established in 1998 and supported by volunteers within the Durham-Orange Community. Their mission is to promote and encourage the development of tennis in Durham and Orange County. For more information on DOCTA, visit www.docta.org.
“A lot of these seniors play regularly at Wilson Park every mornings,” Hughes said. “Some of the ladies here play with the Orange (County) Tennis Club, and they usually get together and play in Hillsborough at Orange High School’s courts usually. Some also play at the Chapel Hill Tennis Club.”
“We’ve already had a really good turnout, and this nice weather has helped,” Hughes added. “We usually get around 16 people out, and we use all four courts here at Wilson Park.”
“There are three senior groups that play regularly in Chapel Hill, and this is the largest,” McMillan explained.
One of the organizers of area senior tennis Betty James said that the core group is always evolving however.
“It changes constantly,” she said. “There are always new people coming in, and folks (aging) out or leaving. Along with Alan (McMillan), we have another man who’s about 90 who’s really good. We’re always welcoming people too.”
Hughes said the groups predominantly play doubles.
“Everyone’s playing mixed doubles today, and the winners rotate clockwise,” she said. “The losers rotate counter-clockwise. Each match usually lasts around 10 minutes.”
McMillan said doubles allows seniors to cover the courts better.
“I’ve got a bad knee, but the big difference (with age) is the speed,” he said. “I just don’t have the speed for singles.”
Lest anyone think the competitive spirit withers with age, however, think, again.
“Oh, it’s very competitive,” McMillan said, smiling. “Everyone’s trying to win, and there’s no mercy. I try to hit short cross-court shots and drive’em nuts, and they try to just dump it over the net on me.”
Still, one of the most attractive features of local senior tennis is the social aspect.
“We put money in the pot and have get-togethers too,” McMillan said. “We’ve got doctors, a judge is here, one woman is from Taiwan, so we’ve got a fairly (eclectic) group. There’s a wide range of ages here, but we’re all getting older. Of course, we were all younger when we started.”
Everyone present encouraged new players to come out and join in the local senior tennis scene.
“Anyone interested in playing people should call me at (919) 933-6461 or email me at email@example.com,” Betty James said. “At some point, we may play on some other courts, and I’d hate for someone to come here looking for us and for us not to be here.”
“You can just come on out and play,” McMillan said. “In the cool weather, we meet every day at 9:00 a.m.; in the hotter weather, around 8:00 a.m. It sounds organized, but everybody just comes and you rotate in, and it’s for anybody.”
“I play in Hillsborough for the Orange Tennis Club, and that’s all different age groups, with lessons, teams, and participation in (US Tennis Association) leagues,” said Carrie McCann, who spent the morning recruiting new players from the Carrboro courts. “We need women in the 55-and-over bracket for league play, so we decided to come over to talk some of the women here into playing on our teams.”
McCann said those interested should visit the website: “www.orangetennisclub.com.”
And the answer to the age-old “Chicken and Egg” conundrum of which came first? Do local senior tennis fans play because they feel young or do they feel young because they play?
Maybe senior tennis enthusiast John Adkins, 77, said it best:
“I play,” Adkins said, “because I can.”