Program brings seniors back to the tennis racket


County leagues' `Welcome Back' event aims to serve older players

March 21, 2007|By JEFF SEIDEL | JEFF SEIDEL,Special to The Sun

Nancy Hambleton turns 79 in a few weeks. She wants to improve her tennis game.

A 5-foot-4, right-handed player, Hambleton relies more on precision than power and plays about four times a week, mostly in doubles matches.

"They say it's the sport of a lifetime," Hambleton said. "I like the exercise, and it keeps you trim. It's good socially, and I've met a lot of people through tennis."

She could be the model athlete for Welcome Back to Tennis, an initiative by the United State Tennis Association Senior Tennis Leagues in Anne Arundel County and the International Council on Active Aging. The event, scheduled for 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. March 31 at Annapolis High School, targets active adults age 50 and older who want to get back in the game.

Sign-up for instruction and play this spring will be available.

"I think there are lots of people 50 and over who would love to be involved, but they think it's too late to start, and they don't realize the health benefits and the fun they can have playing this sport," said Peggy Sange, the local league coordinator.

The USTA Senior Tennis Leagues in Anne Arundel County come in three forms, for doubles-only competition.

There's a Senior League for women age 50 and older, a Super Senior League for women age 60 and older, and a Super Duper League for women age 70 and older.

In 2001, 697 people competed in the seven divisions for adults, a number that rose to 1,369 last year.

Since a large number of the women want to play in all three leagues, the schedules are designed so there's no overlap. The Super Duper seniors play from Jan. 20 to April 10. Each team has nine women with three doubles matches being played in each of the five-team matches.

Super Seniors play from late April through June, with four or five scheduled team matches. The seniors go from July through August. That level consists of doubles play.

Hambleton's tennis history is a bit unusual. After playing through childhood, she competed at the University of Pennsylvania - the lone freshman on the varsity team her first year - but stopped after college. She started playing again at age 42 after her kids were older.

Hambleton has competed in tournaments in Florida, Texas, California, Pennsylvania and Austria.

"You always keep trying, and I'm realistic," she said. "I don't think I'm going to improve, just because age takes its toll," she said.

Sange, a 65-year-old Severna Park resident, has played tennis for 50 years. She's headed for Kansas City this weekend to compete in a tournament on the national Senior Women's Tennis Association.

It puts on competitions all around the country by age group, and Sange is excited about taking a shot in Missouri.

"[I might] do terribly," she said. "But I don't care. I think it will be fun. My attitude is to have fun and play tennis."

Bev Schwink of Annapolis is one of the people who won't need to be taught anything about tennis. The 63-year-old didn't start playing tennis until she was in her early 30s, taking lessons the local YWCA offered at Arundel High and quickly falling in love with the game.

She'll play a minimum of four times per week in doubles and adds a singles match. Schwink mixes up her game, often coming to the net and not just relying on being a baseline player.

Schwink has power and a very good cross-court backhand that can stop opponents in their tracks. She is traveling to Florida with three friends in the next few days just to watch a tennis tournament. In May, Schwink is headed to Hilton Head, S.C., to work on becoming certified as a tennis instructor.

"I'd love to teach beginners," she said. "Each game, each point, is different. I am competitive and love the friendships I've made in tennis. It's a great game and great people."

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