APTA Junior Nationals -”The future looks bright!” to Michael Gillespie

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“The future of our sport is looking bright!” Those were the closing words that APTA Junior Nationals Tournament Director Michael Gillespie proclaimed after he draped the traditional medals around the necks of the last finalists and champions of the 2010 edition of this annual, day-long tournament.

Bright indeed. This year, 200 juniors participated in the annual junior championships, held on Saturday, January 30, in New Canaan, Connecticut, and hosted by members of the New Canaan Field Club. Teams traveled from as far away as Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, and even from Hinsdale and Highland Park, IL.

The weekend kicked off with the traditional Friday night “Welcome Party” for all participants. Each of the Field Club’s four courts were set up with a different activity: Court 1 featured nationally-ranked players Mark Parsons and Brian O’Connor taking on challenges from the juniors in a 10-point super tiebreak. Court 2 featured various skills contests where players tried to hits high lob to a specific target, hit soft overheads so they would drop into a basket, and return a variety of crazy spin serves from resident pro Mike

The paddle carnival atmosphere continued on adjacent Court 3, which was featuring “Red Zone.” Bertan Cikigil of Sleepy Hollow Country Club set up two of the metal 2′x3′ targets and let the juniors loose to try out this fast-paced and exciting variant of platform tennis.

Roaming all of the courts and throughout the hut capturing the fun for a commemorative video was local paddle enthusiast and professional video producer George Hamilton. George and his crew from YYR Productions created a DVD featuring player interviews and highlights from many of the matches. This DVD is being made available to all the participants and the general public as well. (For information on how to order a copy, visit the APTA website at www.paddlepro.com.)

Early Saturday morning, the brigade of volunteer hut commanders recruited and organized by Tish Tregellas, arrived at the Field Club to pick up the favors, food, and draw sheets that they would need at their respective sites. While the early forecasts were calling for light snow showers, the precipitation stayed away; but just hours before the first ball was served, it was a chilly nine degrees Fahrenheit!

The early rounds were all Round-Robin format and were held at several nearby clubs. After lunch and the quarter- and semi-finals, all of the finalists returned to the New Canaan Field Club to play the finals of all the divisions. The finals even attracted the attention of the national media. National Public Radio journalist Craig LeMoult was at the Field Club and interviewed several players and spectators. The following Monday, his 3 1/2-minute primer on Platform Tennis aired on NPR’s Morning Edition. You can listen to his story online by going to www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=123202058.

While all of the finals in each of the eight divisions had their own bits of drama, two matches in particular kept the spectators in the hut gripped in excitement. In the Boys 14 & Under, locals Will Burger and Gardner Tregellas held off a stiff challenge from Will Kleeman and Patrick Dellinger, who traveled from Sewickley, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Pittsburgh. Burger and Tregellas, who won a national title as 12-year olds and were finalists in last year’s 14s, were the slight favorite over the little-known duo from Western PA. After taking the first set by a closely fought score of 6-4, it looked as though they had the momentum going into the second set. However, Kleeman, who had been wanting to play in the Jr. Nationals for the past three years, and partner Dellinger, who is a talented tennis player relatively new to paddle, didn’t come this far to go down in straight sets. They evened the match by winning the second set, 6-4. In the third and deciding set, Burger and Tregellas came back from a 1-3 deficit to close out the match, 6-3.

After the B14 nail-biter, the dozens of spectators in the hut barely had time to recover because, over on Court 4, an incredible Girls 18 final was unfolding. In a repeat of last year’s G18 final, favorites Corey Delaney and Nicki Ross of Chatham, NJ, faced Margaret Souther and Rachel Whitney of Scarsdale, NY. As classic matches often do, this one came down to the deciding third set. Delaney and Ross found themselves down an early break to trail 2- 4. Later in the set, they faced several match points, but each time, were able to fight them off. In the end, Delaney and Ross successfully defended their title, 7-5 in the third.

At the end of the tournament, Gillespie told the audience, “It is such an honor for me to host the Junior Nationals. I remember when I began playing the junior “circuit” as a 14 year-old from Glen Ridge, NJ. I traveled to Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, New York, throughout New Jersey, and even up to New Canaan, CT. It’s fun for me to play adult tournaments now and run into players I competed against more than 30 years ago. This sport has given so much to me. I am so glad to have this opportunity to give a little something back”

I want to thank my excellent tournament committee and the many volunteers who helped throughout the weekend. The tournament also would not have been possible without the generous financial or in-kind contributionsfrom the following sponsors: Prince/Viking Athletics, Orthopaedic & Neurosurgery Specialists of Greenwich, Wilson Racquet Sports, the Fairfield County Platform Tennis League, the Center for Advanced Pediatrics, Tennis General Store, Pinocchio Pizza, Kelly Daniel of William Raveis Realtors, New Canaan Racquet Club, New Canaan Field Club, BeBands, The Switch Beverage Co., Poland Spring Natural Spring Water, and Comma Home Furnishings.

In closing, I’d like to encourage all tournament directors out there to consider adding a junior event to their calendar next year. The caliber of play of our juniors is clearly on the rise. Let’s keep that momentum going. The kids are doing their part. Let’s do what we can to keep the future of our sport bright!

Source: Michael Gillespie, Platform Tennis Magazine, Vol. 11, Issue 4, March, 2010