By Katie Scarvey
For a lot of people, exercising is a chore, but for some local tennis players, it’s a fun way to keep fit ó and the years haven’t changed that.
For most of the last decade, John Heath, Scott Mitchell, Jeff Saleeby and Dr. Joe Corpening have met about three times a week to play doubles.
The men typically meet at the Catawba College courts around 9 a.m. for their matches. Sometimes, Rick Beatty and Joe Coombs join them.
The baby of the group at 63, Saleeby is 24 years younger than the group’s oldest member. Perhaps he’s a bit of a maverick as well, since he’s the only one of the four not in tennis whites ó on the day we visited the Civic Center courts, he was dressed all in black.
Saleeby enjoys playing with the older men, whom he describes as accomplished tennis players who have learned to adjust their games with age.
“It’s all I can do to keep up with them,” he says.
“We move pretty well for our age,” says Corpening, 84.
It would be impossible to disagree.
Corpening has been playing since 1955. Saleeby knows this very well ó because he was a boy when Corpening began playing with Saleeby’s father, Boheeg.
“I’d watch them play at Catawba and my father would hit with me after they finished.”
Saleeby later played on the tennis team at Boyden High, where he believes he might still hold the record for the longest match ó which ended in the third set with a score of 16-14.
Saleeby remembers Corpening ó who started the children’s clinic in Salisbury ó coming to visit his home with his black doctor’s bag when Saleeby had the flu.
Scott Mitchell, who began playing in 1932, is the group’s elder statesman at 87.
After graduating from Dartmouth College, Mitchell turned to golf instead of tennis for about 25 years. When he was 45, he had a malignant tumor removed from his left arm and found he could no longer swing a golf club. That prompted his return to tennis ó which he’s been playing ever since.
Mitchell, who coached tennis at Catawba College from 1987 to 1999, has been ranked as high as no. 2 in the state for his age group.
Tennis has been primarily a way for him to stay fit, Mitchell says, but he also enjoys the social aspect of it.
“We have a good time,” he says. “I think I know everybody in Salisbury who plays tennis.”
John Heath, 79, began playing tennis with his mother and father at age 6 ó with a 25-cent racquet, he remembers.
Heath was a member of the very first men’s tennis team at East Carolina University in the mid-1940s. At that time, the school had 800 women and only 80 men, he says. He remembers being paid 50 cents an hour to take care of the school’s tennis courts.
Later, he served in the Air Force for many years and played as much tennis as he could wherever he was stationed. Once, after winning a doubles tournament in Turkey he got to travel to Greece for a week, to play more tennis.
He moved to Salisbury in 1984, and he’s participated often in the Senior Games. He’s won the state tournament several times.
He normally plays tennis at least four times a week ó sometimes more if he can arrange mixed doubles, which he plays with Saleeby, Connie Lentz and Vicky Miller. On Saturday mornings, he challenges himself with a group of younger ó and quicker ó men, including Greg Hall and Michael Brooks.
Heath estimates that he plays about 10 hours a week.
Tennis, he says, is important for a lot of reasons.
“The guys are congenial. And the exercise is just excellent.”
Curious about how much running was involved in playing three sets of tennis, Heath wore a pedometer during one morning of tennis. He discovered that he covered about five miles during three sets, which can take up to three hours to complete.
He believes that tennis is a lifetime sport, as is golf ó but he believes you can get a better workout in two or three hours of tennis than in 18 or 36 holes of golf.
Heath does 30 minutes of calisthenics every morning before he plays tennis. Saleeby does some yoga stretching beforehand, which helps him prevent injury, he believes.
As you get older, though, Saleeby says, you’re forced to get “very friendly with ice packs.”
Contact Katie Scarvey at 704-797-4270 or email@example.com.