Shriver saying goodbye to Tennis Challenge

After 25 years, event will be held for the last time in November

September 15, 2010|By Sandra McKee, The Baltimore Sun

The Pam Shriver Tennis Challenge, which has been on the Baltimore sports scene for 25 years, will say goodbye in November.

Though attendance has been down in recent years, Shriver's event nearly filled the 13,000-seat 1st Mariner Arena in past years and averaged between 6,000 and 8,000 over the quarter-century. It raised more than $4million for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and children's charities through the Baltimore Community Foundation.

"If someone had told me in 1986 when I started this event that it would go for 25years — that was more than my age at the time — I couldn't have projected what we've been able to do," Shriver said. "But the last few years it has become something stressful; the last two years I've been saying, 'Let me get to 25 years and see how I feel.' Now I've gotten here and I realize it's a little too much. This is it."

Mike Gibbons, executive director of the Sports Legends Museum at Camden Yards, said Shriver's commitment to Baltimore fundraising made her a role model.

"Pam, who I've met a few times, is really so important to our community because she was local, excelled in her sport and became nationally and internationally known," Gibbons said. "She was a superlative athlete who did it the right way and when she was finished playing, she continued to give to her community."

As a player Shriver, 38, rose to No. 3 in singles; she and Martina Navratilova became the winningest doubles team of all time.

"She used the sport the way sports should be used, on and off the court, for philanthropy," said Gibbons. "She put on an event that packed the arena for many years to entertain us with the top talent in her sport and then gave all that money to charity. She's in the Sports Legends Museum for a reason."

Part of the entertainment Shriver brought to her event was The Orioles Challenge, in which members of the Orioles (whether they could play tennis or not) picked up a racket, partnered with one of the pros and proceeded to generate roaring laughter from the crowd.

"Pam has always been such an important part of the Baltimore community," said Greg Bader, the Orioles' director of communications. "Her charity work throughout the years has been extensive and has touched many lives. We are glad to have been able to assist in her efforts."

Even though the mother of three delegated to her staff, Shriver said she felt increasingly responsible for the event. Last year she went so far as to sponsor it herself when, in a failing economy, no other sponsor could be found.

"The amount of time I had to spend to get players worthy of this event, how long I've been retired, the age of my kids [8, 5 and 5], the school schedules, managing a divorce, my broadcast career, all of it takes a toll," she said Tuesday, just home in Los Angeles from the U.S. Open and parked in a school carpool pickup line. "Life comes at you. It's a little bit sad to see [the event] end."

The final event will be held Nov. 17 and will include an afternoon celebrity pro-am at Green Spring Racquet Club and a Silver Anniversary Ball at the Sheraton Inner Harbor. Tickets are available by calling the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation at 410-628-0795 or going to info@tennischallenge.org. Individual dinner tickets are $250.

Already on the guest list are tennis legends Navratilova and Chris Evert and longtime Sports Illustrated writer Frank Deford.

"I'm hoping to add three or four more people who really meant something to the event," Shriver said. " Brady [Anderson, former Orioles outfielder], perhaps Monica Seles. I'd like everyone who ever played here to come, but I know that's impossible.

"I don't want it to be too much about me because it has always been more about the people of Baltimore, the fans, and the people who have supported us all these years — the Ravens and Orioles owners, The Baltimore Sun, who presented the event for 24 years. Family Circle is one of the few longer-running name-event sponsors, and that says a lot."

sandra.mckee@baltsun.com

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