Published 12:00 am Friday, May 24, 2013

By Liz Tennent
SALISBURY — The annual Salisbury Rotary Tennis Tournament is more than games, sets and matches. It feels more like a family reunion with parents and kids and husbands. Wives, aunts, uncles, cousins, old friends and new ones gathering for a weekend of fun and fellowship and, of course, lots of tennis.
Despite wet weather and schedule changes, 81 players persevered May 17-19 to serve up their best shots in junior and adult singles and doubles, as well as mixed doubles. Proceeds from the event will help purchase new flags for the Patriots Flag Concourse and Memorial, which was dedicated in May 2012, at the City Park Recreation Complex.

Aaron Post defended his Men’s Open singles title with a 7-6, 6-0 win over Evan Sutker from Clemson. Post is no stranger to tennis. The 2003 grad of Salisbury also played at Brevard College and has played in the Rotary Men’s Open finals the last five years.
Post is also no stranger to Sutker. They are cousins.
“We had a great match,” Post said. “I had played a match just before the finals so Evan’s strategy was to drop-shot me. He’s very fast, has great ground strokes and he is left-handed. So I think the family connection (uncle Jon and aunt Libby Post) was probably tougher on them since they probably didn’t want to root for one of us too much.”

For nine-year old Lacy Waggoner, it was not only her first tournament, it was the first time she had ever played a match. Waggoner has been taking lessons from Jack Thompson and Lizzie Weaver and competed in the round-robin Girls 12-and-under singles. She didn’t win, but she won everyone’s heart.
“Everyone was so nice to me,” said Waggoner, “even though I cried when I lost.”
Waggoner’s mom, Lynn believed it was a great first experience for Lacy.
“I loved how supportive and encouraging everyone was, not only to Lacy but to each other. It was really fun to watch and I have a new appreciation of the sport … especially the scoring.”

Parker and Kelly Sheppard were newcomers to the tournament but not to tennis. The husband-wife duo in their mid 20’s teamed up to compete in the mixed doubles event. Kelly, a singles veteran, played for Washington & Lee University and was No. 4 singles when they won the national championship in 2007. Parker started playing tennis in 2005 during his college years.
The Sheppard team lost a rain-delayed battle to Nancy and Wes Graham (mother/son) in the opening round. Parker took it all in stride with some spin of humor.
“I’ve never played in a legitimate tennis tournament before, so it was really good to play against someone other than Kelly,” he said. “As much fun as playing was, I enjoyed the chance to meet other people in Salisbury. The spectator’s gallery was full of friendly people, and since we washed out in the early rounds, I had plenty of time to talk with people.”
So were there any conflicts between husband and wife on the court?
According to Kelly, “We got along really well… much better than loading the dishwasher or decorating. Parker and I just love playing tennis together. It was fun to see how he thinks and how he puts together a point when we’re on the same side of the net.”

Though it wasn’t the first Rotary tourney for either Nancy or Wes Graham, it was their first time competing together.
Thirty-one-year-old Wes played high school tennis for Woodberry Forest and then at West Point. He played in junior and southern tournaments with older sister, Jamie. But this time it was mom’s turn.
And Nancy could not have been happier.
“I really enjoyed playing with him.,” she said. “We had a lot of fun. I have always wanted to play in a tournament with one of my children. I got to play with my daughter, Jamie, in a fun club tournament in Florida a few years ago. It’s a lot more fun to play tennis with one of your children than it is to just watch them play.”
The Graham team played their way all the way to the Mixed Doubles championship before falling to Aaron Post/Katelyn Storey 6-0, 6-2.

Some won matches. Some lost matches. No matter the outcome, Kelly Sheppard, Women Open’s A Division champion, summarized the winning spirit of players and fans after a long weekend.
“We had a great time at the tournament,” she said. “It is such a fun and supportive atmosphere. You usually think you have to go to a big city to have enough people who love tennis enough to wait out the rain for three days. It was awesome to find such a group right here in Salisbury. Everyone was so nice, and now I know who all the players are. I don’t think I’ve ever had so many people want to exchange numbers and get together for tennis later.
“We’ve only lived in Salisbury for part of the year, and this tournament made it feel more like home. You’ve got a great group here. I hope it keeps going for many years to come!”
Perhaps next year’s reunion for the Salisbury Rotary Tournament might just include homemade casseroles and desserts.