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Sat, Jan. 18

Column: Making it all happen at Indian Wells

Behind every successful tennis tournament is a horde of great volunteers. That's certainly true when it comes to the BNP Paribas Open held at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in southern California.

This special tournament, which is celebrating its 35th year, was started by former professionals Charlie Pasarell and Raymond Moore.

Now it's become the largest ATP World Tour and Sony Ericsson WTA Tour combined event in the world.

The number of attendants just beyond the midway point this year shows that it will surpass last year's totals of 330,000, with almost 200,000 people through the gates already.

The many factors that have allowed this event to become known as the fifth major in many ways come down to a community of volunteers "The Champions Volunteer Foundation" and their 1,000-plus staff.

This special foundation is a non-profit organization whose primary goal is to raise funds for other non-profit organizations that support youth, recreational, educational and well-care programs throughout the Coachella Valley.

There are 21 different official volunteer groups that make up this small army of commandos that help make this tournament happen.

Among the many behind-the-scenes necessities these volunteers help coordinate are media and player services, transportation and ushers.

Can you imagine what the ticket prices would be if all of these people were paid for what they do? Without them a tourney like this just couldn't happen.

One of the Champions Volunteer Foundation Officers and Media Check-In chairperson is a very special lady that I've become acquainted with on my travels to Indian Wells is Mary Caprielian.

This former travel agent has been with the tournament for 26 years, which means she's seen it grow from a much smaller entity to what it's become today.

She used to come out to work the tournament from Texas. As she became more and more involved, she and her husband bought a home in the area to live in part of the year.

They arrive in November and leave for Texas after the tournament ends in March.

A part-time tennis player, now with two titanium knees Caprielian said she gets invigorated around these guys.

"I just love um...I really do," she said.

The day I arrived, Caprielian was helping train a gal sent from the China Open to show her how they do it at Indian Wells.

She was the go-to person because of her great wealth of knowledge. Also, When it comes to people skills, it's definitely her forte.

Earlier in the week a mother and young son were sent to Caprielian to have her help him get started in doing camera work and interviews for his own Web site, which she was very happy to do.

She got practiceschedules of the players and match times - mentoring him in every way she could.

"These are the kind of things that really mean a lot to me to help with, over and beyond the normal care of the media folks," Caprielian said. "There are 150 more media people this year than last, and I know if the press is happy and well cared for they're more apt to write good things."

And Caprielian has gone as far as washing clothes for them, sewing buttons and spending even more hours than required when she's seen the need.

"I don't consider it work, it's fun," she said.

She continued, "Some of my favorites are Pete Sampras, Vic Braden and Bud Collins, but I have to be careful because it seems my desk area becomes the fun place for everyone to hang out and talk."

How many more years will she continue to volunteer her time and effort for the cause?

"As long as I'm happy and the press guys want me, I'll be here," she said.

Caprielian's a jewel and the tournament needs to make sure she and all the other great volunteers are taken care of in a manner that lets them know just how appreciated they are.

If that happens and owner Larry Ellison keeps making improvements to the tournament, the numbers will keep rising.

Chris Howard is a local USPTA Tennis Professional with over 35 years in the racquet and fitness industry. He can be reached at 928-445-1331 or choward4541@q.com

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