Originally Published: October 1, 2013 6 a.m.
Last week I was teaching a late morning tennis lesson at the college and noticed an older sedan pull into the parking lot. A man got out and went to the back of his car, opened the trunk and after what seemed a long time took a bag from it.
He was making sure that whatever was in the bag or satchel was just so.
He then started a slow walk from the parking lot around the two courts toward where I was giving my lesson.
My guess was that he might be looking for me, but I wasn't sure. My mind was searching. Who is that? He seemed familiar but I still wasn't sure.
As he got to the closed gate near the lesson court, I knew who it was and said "hello," stopping for a couple moments, which gave my old tennis friend just what he wanted, a few words with me. "Can I interrupt you for a couple minutes," he asked as he walked through the gate.
"Chris," he started, "I've unfortunately got to give up the game and so I've brought all my racquets here for you to do with as you see fit."
I protested and finally said, "Are you sure?"
"Yes, I've given it a great deal of thought. My health just won't allow me to enjoy what I've loved doing (playing tennis) for the betterment of my life. You see, my balance just isn't what it needs to be and I'm afraid I'm going to fall and really hurt myself."
You could tell by the look in his eyes and the sound of his voice this was a very emotional moment, and I couldn't help but feel the same. It wasn't the first time I'd been in this situation, but that doesn't make it any easier. "You know, if you change your mind or you start to feel differently about this decision, you know where you can come to hit some balls and see ... right?," I blurted out.
He thanked me for all the good times we'd had together over the years on the courts and after we said our goodbyes he carefully set the bag down and slowly walked back to his car and drove away.
After my lesson ended I sat on the bench and looked through the faded blue Prince bag of racquets.
Much to my surprise there was what looked to be one of the oldest Dunlop Maxply International wood racquets I'd ever seen, still in its original wood press. The vintage racquet must have been made sometime in the 1940s, but was still in good shape and playable. He must have used this as a teenager.
It was followed by a Spalding wood frame signature Martina Navratilova. The French White Ash Frame might have the name of a great female player on it, but is a stick similar to the Dunlop, only now from the 1970s. Once again my mind took over, imagining after college and now working with a family he took the game back up and this racquet held him until the aluminum and first oversized racquet jumped into his hand - the Prince Classic. I'm sure he was called a cheater when he first played with this.
The next racquet was a Wilson metal Pro 110, then a fairly heavy Prince graphite CTS, and last another Prince, the Tour DB, an oversized lightweight graphite model.
The bag he dropped off covered his whole life of playing the game of tennis.
It told a story unto itself - of a young man/teenager who loved the game and played until he no longer could. A history of tennis was in this plain simple tennis bag that I now held.
Each racquet hit so many balls, heard so much laughter - probably a few swear words; went on dates; played in tournaments; helped make many friends; gave feelings of pride and accomplishment; kept him in shape; was taken on family outings; probably a fixture at times in the car. Just plain good memories of enjoying life on the court hitting a little ball around.
It seems the journey of a tennis player doesn't die. It just gets passed on.
Chris Howard is a local USPTA Tennis Professional with over 40 years in the racquet and fitness industry. He can be reached at 928-642-6775 or firstname.lastname@example.org.