Tennis

The 65-and-over United State Tennis Association League National Invitational will take place in Surprise, Ariz. on Jan. 28, and one might say it’s quite the surprise which tennis team from Louisiana will be in attendance.  

Ten women represented Monroe and Louisiana — Marsha Cobb (captain), Cindy Strickler, Becky McCain, Jane Jarrett, Dianne Graham, Kit Kelley, Virginia Eddleman, Debbie Barthel, Valerie Matejowsky and Vickie Krutzer — as the wild card team in the southern sectionals tournament and won six rounds of tennis to advance.

“We went in as underdogs,” Graham said. “They took the top four teams of the nine states participating to play in the semifinals. We went in with a 2-2 record as the wild card and we were going against South Carolina, who hadn’t lost a match. Well, we beat them and then we had to face Team Louisiana (Lafayette) that previously beat us for state.”

It was a big deal to have two Louisiana teams in the finals, and against all odds, the group, who proudly called themselves senior citizens, outpaced their opponents to win the USTA Southern Tennis Sectional Championship.

“This ain’t your grandma’s tennis,” one team member proudly shouted as they all gathered at the Monroe Athletic Club one cold morning in November.

As they prepare for nationals, Team Louisiana sees the bigger picture. In fact, they’re using their publicity of winning this recent prestigious tennis tournament to relay a message to all age groups.

“Tennis is a sport for a lifetime,” Matejowsky said. “The competitive and social aspects of it are so important.”

Matejowsky is the perfect example of that statement, though her story wasn’t uncommon among the many who gather to play tennis at the MAC and other tennis courts across Ouachita Parish.

“My dad started teaching me when I was 11 years old, and I pretty much except for a break when I had my children of 15 to 20 years, have played most of my life,”she said.

Some played in high school and picked it up 40 years later for companionship and have reaped the benefits of staying active later in life.

Others have grandchildren, who are currently playing tennis in high school, like Graham’s granddaughter Lauren Graham. Just like her older sister Carolina Graham did a couple years before her, Lauren Graham won the girls single state championship as part of Neville’s tennis dynasty.

“We are very interested in seeing juniors taking lessons and moving forward and encouraging that,” Dianne Graham said. “I think that’s important.”

And while Dianne Graham tries to encourage the next generation, she’s also been inspired by an older age group.

“The first time I ever played doubles at Forsythe, I watched this doubles team of men,” Dianne Graham said. “One of them was all bent over, and I didn’t think he would even make it onto the court. He was playing with a younger man, but week after week I saw them playing. He would stay by the net and get all the balls he was supposed to. I finally asked him how old he was, and he told me, ’84.’ That so impressed me that at 84 he would even want to come out. He was out there moving.”

That only reaffirms what her teammates have said all along.

“Tennis is the sport of a lifetime, and we’re proof of that,” Cobb said.

It’s one thing to talk about growing the sport, but this group is also doing their part in making sure it flourishes in our own backyard of Ouachita Parish any way they can. And if all goes well, the parish, itself, could benefit from the sport of tennis too.

With more tennis courts potentially coming to the Forsythe Tennis Center, the group gathered at the MAC was hopeful that Monroe would get to host a large USTA tournament one day.

 “When you have 1,500 players show up for a four-day event in your town, we fill up those hotels on the weekend, and our age goes to shop and goes to eat. Tax dollars would really come in,” Krutzer said.

And who knows? If Monroe is lucky enough to host a tournament of that magnitude in the future, there might be a few more championship banners available to hang as décor.

Award-winning sports writer for columns and features since joining the field in 2013. As the first-ever featured columnist of the month at Bleacher Report, Martin cut his teeth with online media before joining the newspaper business in 2014.

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