This week, I’m visiting my parents in Shreveport, Louisiana, where I grew up. Yesterday, I had the chance to go watch my 74-year-old dad play tennis against his long-time friend and rival in what has become a once- or twice-weekly ritual. These two guys have been competitors since childhood. They have also been friends since childhood. They played against each other in the juniors and with each other in college. Yes, the level of tennis has changed over the years. Neither one moves too well these days. Neither one has the piercing groundstrokes that once defined their games. And neither one has lost the desire to win when facing the other across the net.
On the court next to my dad and his friend/opponent was an 18-year-old high school senior who is preparing to play Division 3 tennis for Sewanee University in the fall. We struck up a conversation. I asked him if he knew one of the seniors on my son’s high school team, Danny. He did. Not only did he know Danny, though, but he told me they have been friends since the 10-and-unders and have been competing against each other ever since. He went on to tell me about their most recent match, in detail, describing how the 3-hour-and-45-minute match in the extreme summer heat and humidity had taken his last reserves so that, even though he won, he went on to lose handily in the next round of the tourney. He also told me what a great guy Danny is and how excited he is that Danny’s getting to play D1 tennis next year. He is truly happy for – and proud of – his friend.
This is what junior tennis can do – it can create life-long friendships that originate on the courts but extend way beyond them. My dad has recently re-connected with several of the other guys who played with him at Tulane. They rehash old matches, tell their “war stories”, and reminisce about their glory days. The friendships that started on some green clay courts 60+ years ago have survived graduate school, marriage, children, divorce, illness, and tragedy. I hope my son has these same stories of friendship to share with his kids and grandkids some day.