Serving up more than friendship

SUN PHOTO BY TAMI GARCIABrian Taylor prepares to hit the ball over the net with teammate Wendy Hyman (not pictured). They were one of 16 teams who participated in the tournament

SUN PHOTO BY TAMI GARCIA
Brian Taylor prepares to hit the ball over the net with teammate Wendy Hyman (not pictured). They were one of 16 teams who participated in the tournament

ENGLEWOOD — When seasonal resident Mary Ellen Pfeifer wanted to find people to play tennis with, to her surprise she found a growing community of tennis players enriched by 30 years of competitive tradition.

While the group doesn’t have a formal name, its annual tennis tourney does — the Mixed-up Doubles.

The name is derived from the format — a mixed draw where men and women who are not couples are paired off in teams to play against one another. People who were paired before in tournaments are not allowed to pair again for three years, according to Virginia Albanese, a committee member.

The Englewood Recreational Center is hosting a Mixed-up Doubles Tournament this week. Games started Tuesday and will continue starting at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday and Thursday and 9 a.m. Friday at the Englewood Recreation Center, 101 Orange St.

“Last year, I couldn’t find anybody to play tennis with and I found about these guys through a friend when I was in a golf tournament in Rotonda,” Pfeifer said. “I told my husband about it and he’s joined me. It’s like being with a family. We just absolutely love it.”

Eight trophies will be handed to the winners when the four-day tourney ends Friday.

“You’re playing with all levels,” said Hank Halat, a committee member from Placida. “You have some who are teachers. You have some pros. You got some who are neophytes. You got all kinds who you can play with. The key here is having fun and companionship.”

Albanese and Halat are among five committee members who organized the tournament.

They say it’s a great way to make new friends.

“You come here and meet all these different people,” Pfeifer said. “It’s a blind draw. You never know who you’re going to get. Then you get to be friends with that person.”

Albanese said people from all over regularly come and play tennis, some from as far as Canada and Germany.

While the spirit of competition is alive and well, building a community takes precedence, members say.

“I love (coming here) and come back year after year,” said Shirley Helmink, a seasonal Englewood resident who played for 36 years and retired because of bad knees. “I haven’t played this year, but I love to come because I still like the people. Everyone’s so congenial.”

Englewood resident Gertrude Benedict played for 37 years.

“Last year was my last year,” she said. “It is hard not to play. I can’t run back and forth anymore. They’re all pretty good.”

About 10 percent of those who play are at a four ranking on a scale of 1-5, Halat said. Five is where professionals rank.

“People are real competitive here,” he said. “There are some who are pros at a local level. Some of the people who come here still play in several local tournaments.”

For more information on the Mixedup Doubles, call 941-475-9724.

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About Tom

Tom Chang is a freelance journalist with a background in multimedia journalism and web publishing. He is currently pursuing his Masters in Journalism and Media Studies from the University of South Florida St.Petersburg. He graduated in 2004 with a Bachelors Degree in Mass Communications at USF Tampa. Tom's interests include a little bit of everything from entertainment to sports. He also wishes to delve into creative writing writing sci-fi/fantasy stories. Tom was recently the Online Editor for USF St. Petersburg's the Crow's Nest, he joined the staff in January 2010 where he started freelance writing, photographing, copy editing and later became a staff writer. Tom’s freelance experience in journalism amassed a wide range of companies including Creative Loafing, The Focus Magazine, Lutz News, Examiner.com, and Tampa Tribune.
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