Another USTA season is coming to an end. Some playoff matches have concluded and others are still being scheduled at the time this article went to print. I am going to save the list of winners for the next issue so it will be complete. I am going to, instead, release some feelings from this past season and share an e-mail sent to me a little over a year ago. The person mentioned in the e-mail below is a great guy named Joe who worked for me quite a few years ago, and it was sent to me by a very special tennis player who is a nurse and works with cancer patients. Does the article sound depressing? The e-mail is at the end of this article, and I find it inspiring and full of bravery and having life in perspective. What I am about to write before the e-mail, that’s the depressing part!
This past season was one story after another, on a daily basis, of just how nasty and manipulative people were being. I was witness to some of it, and for the life of me, I just don’t get it. These are adults who get to spend their free time with friends and teammates playing tennis. Yes, it is competitive, but it is also supposed to be fun and enjoyable. There was the usual, stalling, bad line calls, the new complaint of cellphone abuse, etc. All of these annoying things are the norm, and we will probably never have a season played without them.
However, matches lately have gone a little further. We had women arguing, telling the other she was going to shove her racquet up the other women’s behind (I toned it down for the magazine). More than one men’s match almost came to physical blows. I heard accusations of coaching via text messages, questioning calls from outside the court by spectators, total manipulation in trying to not let opponents know when playoff matches would be until the last possible second (I can only assume with the hopes that the opponent would then not be able to get their players). We also had players manipulating who they play in playoffs and the teams that just miss making playoffs doing all they can to find a way in. There were the usual inconsiderate, thoughtless teams, where once they are out of the running to make playoffs, they just forfeit courts like it was no big deal. Does it ever occur to them that the other team was looking forward to playing? Did they ever think that the facility was holding that court time for weeks, even months, for them or that their opponent was trying to get players qualified to be able to compete in the championships and you now took that away from them? For some, it really has very little to do with competing fairly, and very little to do with sportsmanship and dignity. It became all about advancing to the championships at any cost.
There was a new player who joined the league this year and was looking forward to meeting new people to play tennis with. She was shocked when she arrived for her first match and her captain stood in the vestibule of the hosting club, telling her, “You can be friendly after the match if you want, until then, they are the enemy and you’re here to kill them.” Really? That’s laying the groundwork for a real nice match!
There is a positive flipside to this, and I don’t want to ignore that. I watched a playoff match where a doubles court had a great close match, with all four women hugging at the end. Two singles players who met for the first time, had a great match and came off the court to sign up for a team doubles league together. I have read e-mails between two opposing captains setting up their playoff match and teasing each other about the refreshments. I see pictures on Facebook where teams are socializing after the match with their opponents.
Lastly, a very touching story from this season. In a 55 & Over match, a player suffered an aneurysm during the warm-up. The opposing captain was on the phone with me the first thing the next morning asking for any and all updates. There much concern on his and his players part. I was included on the many e-mails to this player from his teammates which were filled with encouragement and love.
These are the stories, and these stories alone that I wish represented this league, but there is another side that casts such a shadow over the good. I really wish those who cast that dark shadow would recognize just what they are doing and the impact it has.
So, here is my confusion and my questions: Do people want this league to continue? Do you think people are going to continue playing in the league if their opponent is cheating or manipulating? Is it really necessary to be so nasty to your opponent? Does it feel good to win knowing you won on a bad call, manipulation or just plain and simple bullying?
I hear more and more people say: “I don’t need this” and I cannot blame them. The end result, eventually, is going to be no one wanting to continue playing in the league. People’s time is more and more precious, and if they are not enjoying themselves, they will move on to something else. Please consider all of this when playing.
You’re healthy enough to be on the court, you are spending your time playing a great sport with a good amount of nice people. How great is that? Don’t lose sight of those facts, and if you do, think of the e-mail below. I have saved it for over a year, and every now and then, re-read it to get things back in perspective.
I’m so sorry to hear about your dad. I will keep him in my prayers. I was so sad that we lost. We almost won and should have, but I guess it was not meant to be. Regina and I have battled crazy tennis elbow and are lucky to have had the season we had. Our team was awesome and we wanted so badly to advance. We were lucky to have met great people along the way too.
I went to bed wiping away tears like a baby and got up and went to work. While I was there, I spent hours talking to Joseph Sepe, who is not much older than myself. We talked about his cancer which has come back with a vengeance, him being adopted and his recent kidney failure, all while sitting and eating with him over our lunch break. I was joking about "The Life and Times of Joe Sepe." I told him how sorry I was that his cancer was Stage 4, and how this just should not be.
He said "Annmarie, don't you get it? This is all part of my journey!”
I said, “I guess you have to own it!"
He said, “Yes, Annmarie, you have to own it and the sooner you do, the easier it is to accept your life and live your journey.”
I fought back tears for his bravery and thought how silly I was to be crying over tennis. It's all part of our journey, and we have to be thankful for whatever we experience along the way, even if we are disappointed. Joe and I hugged and took a picture to send you. We look horrible, but I will carry throughout my life the lessons learned from this man. and what a great day for me and him to chat. I wish everyone could work with dying patients. They would live so differently.
Thanks for all of your help this season. The tennis journey will continue and there will never be another complaint about me getting my butt kicked! I will own it!