One week out from the very first T3 event, we started checking the weather. At first, it was all good, “Hot, humid, with a mix of sun and clouds.” As we got closer to Tuesday the 2nd, it didn’t look so promising, “60% chance of rain, heavy downpours, local flooding possible, check your local news stations for updates.” With 175 people signed up for a tennis event, we officially started to come up with Plan B- go indoors to the Ritz-Epps Fitness Center. (There is a juice bar at Ritz-Epps, and they make, without a doubt, the best smoothies ever).
Plan B would work well with the little ones, we’d set up the mini nets, use the low compression balls and play lots of games. They wouldn’t know the difference between our make-shift courts and the real deal. Our concern was the adults and older kids. How would they react to playing inside a gym on mini courts and nets, with balls used by the Ten and Under crew?
We found out very quickly that everyone LOVED the improvised format, thanks to the unbelievable job done by the pros. Eddie Dibbs, Pam Casale-Telford, Jeff Telford, JoAnne Russell, Ira Peskowitz, Mario Contardi, Steve Contardi, Dawn de Carvalho, Jaime de Carvalho and Randy Gerber ensured that the event was not only instructional, but fun as well. At one point during the first session of 10 and Under kids, I looked over to Pam’s court. She was teaching little ones, with one girl attached to her hip.
The support crew of Ellen Stone, Liza Cotter and Matt Salt made sure everything ran smoothly. If there were any fires to put out, nobody knew about them. Every time I thought of something that needed to get done, Ellen, Liza or Matt had already done it.
There were 4 sessions throughout the morning and early afternoon. 9:00-10:00 brought out the 10 & Under group. 50 kids spread out over 8 mini courts and nets with about 8 pros. Most of the kids had never played before. They were introduced to “Uppers and Downers,” shuffling, forehands, backhands and volleys. Eddie Dibbs was sure he had the next Pete Sampras in his group. After reading the surveys from that group, it is our sincere hope that the majority of parents who said they were going to enroll their kids in tennis lessons, follow through.
The next session involved kids in the age group 11-18 years of age. The kids were divided according to ability as well as age. We were all pleasantly surprised that there were many teenagers. The drills were slightly more complex, and although we were on a gym surface and not on true courts, we truly believe that the kids were able to get the concept of what the game is all about. One of the mom’s of a 15 year old girl commented that although her daughter played many team sports, she had never been exposed to tennis, but she was eager to pursue tennis lessons locally.
At 11:00 the adults showed up. It was a mixed group of beginners, intermediates, advanced players and even some really good high school players. One man, a retired army officer thanked us for bringing the event to the base. He remarked that although there were many groups that showed their appreciation to the troops, he’d never experienced anything like the T3 program. He brought his daughter, his son-in-law and grandson- all good players! We thanked him and his family for the sacrifices they make for us.
After a quick lunch break, everyone was back on the courts for the second adult session. Many people had stayed from the 11:00 time slot to participate in the last session. It was a mixed group of adults, high school players and even little ones.
It’s always a gamble when an event needs to change venues at the last minute. We were worried that many people wouldn’t make the half hour drive across Ft. Bragg from the courts to the gym…but they did! Chief volunteer and Ft. Bragg Tennis Club member Kevin Wells headed up an awesome team of volunteers: Tim Penarubia, Mari Penarubia, Mario Wozniak, Chris Esguerra, Richard Howell, Chuck Turay, Amy May, Julie Milani, Scott Miner, Jen Tyson and Ellen Novello. Luz Arroyo worked tirelessly to get the courts ready. Mike Desmone, the new head of sports and recreation personally ensured that the courts would be ready. Kurt Phoenix worked behind the scenes to get the support that this event needed.
Here is an example of what these volunteers did: I realized that a gift we’d brought for Jackie Thomas did not make the truck loads of equipment moved from the courts to the gym. Within an hour, I had it in my hands because Chuck had driven back to the club to get it. The fact that the volunteers were so good is almost a double edged sword- we strongly feel that they set the bar so high for other volunteers, that maybe no one will even come close to what they did. They spoiled us.
COL Frank De Carvalho was our contact at Ft. Bragg. For those of you who’ve never had to deal with the military, it can be an intimidating experience. Military personnel, and even the civilians that work for the military, have a language all their own of mostly acronyms and abbreviations. COL De Carvalho not only made the jargon understandable, but he also put us in touch with the right people. Jackie Thomas, Community Relations Specialist for Ft. Bragg was one of those people. Both COL De Carvalho and Jackie Thomas were a huge part of why the event was so successful. (COL De Carvalho also happens to be my brother, and I have now officially adopted Jackie as my sister).
A HUGE shout-out goes to the USO for the lunch they provided for everyone. After all those hours on the court, it was greatly appreciated.
We are so grateful to Babalot for donating racquets and shoes as raffle prizes. The Contardis also donated some tennis items along with their invaluable knowledge and time.
After an event, Staff sits down and does a Post Event Analysis. You look for things to make the next event better; things that worked, concepts that perhaps didn’t. The one thing I would have changed is our departure time. Instead of packing up the trailer, next time we’ll hang out with the volunteers and the people who made the event possible. They were all a truly amazing group.
T3 will now start the process for setting up the next event, maybe in Washington, D.C. We will use the blue- print from Ft. Bragg, and pray that the personnel and participants there will be as awesome as the ones in Ft. Bragg.
It is our hope, that through T3, we can continue to say thanks to all those who serve us, their families and all those who’ve served us and are no longer with us.
Thank you troops. Thank you Ft. Bragg. Thank you volunteers and pros.