We could have chosen to have a nap instead

What happens when you tell ten old guys they must do hard exercise for hours on end, then if they do well, they must do the same thing all over again … and again. Probably, they would choose to have a nap instead.

A strange thing happened on the way to our nap a few years back. A couple of friends brought a bunch of us boomers together to play a little tennis. Good exercise – beats the heck out of mowing the grass.

The more we played, the more we enjoyed each other’s company. We even improved our game enough to keep the ball in play every now and then. It turned out that all of us were over 65, yet we still had enough competitive juices to take a whack at a tennis ball. Few others our age were playing in Athens, so we also competed with other players, more skilled, always younger and certainly less decrepit.

Ronnie Boggs, from Lexington, said one day in early 2017, “Hey, anyone want to play in the USTA State Tennis Championship in Savannah this summer?”  Sounded impressive – and what else did we have to do? Even if we got pummeled, we could enjoy a good fish fry and a little beer. Ah, Savannah in August, what fun to be had. We would surely need the beer.

So, we played teams from Macon, Savannah, Augusta, and of course the mighty teams from Atlanta. Those teams simply expected to win – after all they were Atlanta. They did not.

Our motley crew somehow beat them all, and after three very hot, very tiring days, we somehow emerged as State champs. We wanted that nap. But instead we were asked to do the same all over again and were invited to the Southern Regional Championships on Hilton Head in December.

In Hilton Head, nine states competed, from Louisiana to the Carolinas and all the way to Arkansas. The same temperament prevailed with all of us – let’s compete, but more important, let’s enjoy each other’s company and this time, walk the beaches. If we lose, so be it. We did not lose. 

We were more surprised than our opponents. Our wives, who thought we were all doofuses, were the most astonished. This was getting a little crazy, because we were then asked to represent the Southern region for the USTA National Championships in Surprise, Az. in February. We simply nodded yes.

The National Championships for our age/division consisted of 17 regions of the country. Each of the teams participating had won their respective region so suffice it to say, they were going to be good. But while there were no beaches or fish feasts, we would be in beautiful Arizona for three days, assuming we won any games. We won.

There were four divisions consisting of four teams each, except for ours, which had five. In our bracket, we played teams from New England, Southern California, Puerto Rico and the Midwest. Each match came down to the wire, but each time, the ball bounced our way one more time than it did theirs. We won our bracket and went on to the final four.

We played the Mid-Atlantic region in the semi-finals, and then Hawaii in the Championship contest. Even if we lost, getting to the final four was no mean feat. But we didn’t lose –

We won!

Good grief, what started out as some fellows wanting to stay fit by getting a bit of exercise turned out to be the best team of boomers in the country. Not bad for a band of locals who simply enjoyed playing the game. And this became much better reading in the local newspapers than the robberies, drunks and mayhem so often featured.

To put this in perspective, this is not a story about tennis or sports, it is a story of once young men who refuse to make napping a pastime. We are not that unusual; most people reading this know of many friends like us. While it is a wonderful story of athletic success, the real story is believing in ourselves. Not everyone our age can chase a tennis ball in the Savannah heat, but everyone our age can embrace a passion, whether it is reading, writing or collecting stamps. Passion is a lifestyle and for us, tennis was simply our way of expressing it.

And now, I believe I may have that nap.

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Allan Armitage
Allan Armitage is UGA Professor Emeritus of Horticulture.

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  1. It was Pixie Dust. Hannah Baird, daughter of Allan’s partner Robert, simulated sprinkling Pixie Dust on the team just before matches at State tournament. The ritual continued before each match. As close as all matches were in all events, plus winning Nationals the first visit, yes Pixie Dust.

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