Local tennis tourney welcomes anyone, including parent/child entrants who are 80 and 55

“Our goal today,” tournament director Kristy Eckardt told the field at 8 a.m. Sunday, “is to play a lot of tennis against a lot of different people.”

Twelve hours on Rochelle’s 10 high school tennis courts later, that goal was definitely accomplished.

“We got so many people to come out in all these different divisions from all over,” said Eckardt, who won titles in women’s singles, doubles and mixed doubles and also played in the new parent/child doubles division. “I can’t feel my legs at all.”

Eckardt began a movement when she started her tourney as a Rochelle tennis fund-raiser four years ago. Since then, Janesville, Wisconsin, and Sycamore have also started tennis tournaments in the Rockford area. But none have caught on like Rochelle’s.

It’s almost more of a festival than a tourney, with divisions split into pools where everyone plays short, round-robin matches and everyone is welcome.

This year’s event, with singles Friday and doubles Saturday, drew 106 players from 43 cities who played in 13 divisions, with an average of five or six short matches (six games total) in each division.

More: Rockford to start free USTA group tennis lessons, drills at Rockford University

“If you are into tennis, this is a good place to get your fix,” said Greg Locasio of Sycamore, who didn’t leave until after 8 p.m. both nights. “It caters to people of all skill levels. It’s learning for everybody.”

Cari Berg and her 15-year-old son embodied that better than anyone. Saturday was only the third time in her life that she had even picked up a racquet, but Dawson Berg is learning to play tennis this summer and wanted to play. So he played in the youth singles division Friday and with his mom in the parent/child doubles Saturday.

“He met a lot of people and made new friends,” his mom said. “I am from the softball world, where it’s very cutthroat. We met so many very nice people to play with who were understanding of us not being in the sport yet. Dawson had a couple of teenagers helping him out (Friday) while he played them.”

The parent/child doubles became family doubles because many people defined “child” liberally. Merilyn May, a regular on the Rochelle tennis scene even at age 80, played with her 55-year-old son.

“That’s why I am here. How many times am I going to get to do this?” May said after playing five matches, and winning at least two games in every one. “It’s great that Kristy is doing this.”

Although the tourney was low-key, friendly and fast — with non-stop matches and little waiting around — it also featured quality along with its quantity.

The top four men's doubles teams at the 2023 Rochelle tennis tournament were, from left, Owen Haas and David Wanner (fourth), Aaron Kramer and Ira Lathan (third), John McKenzie and Chris Voelker (second) and Rick and Randy Paisley (first).

The top four men’s doubles teams at the 2023 Rochelle tennis tournament were, from left, Owen Haas and David Wanner (fourth), Aaron Kramer and Ira Lathan (third), John McKenzie and Chris Voelker (second) and Rick and Randy Paisley (first).

“I like the variety of people, young and old,” said Chris Voelker, who came from Davenport, Iowa, with his girlfriend and took second in men’s doubles and third in mixed. “You make new friendships when you play these tournaments. I enjoy that.

“I’m a groove-type player, and it’s hard to get in a groove when you only play six games. But that’s a challenge, too. And I like challenges. You’ve got to get going right away or you’re in trouble.”

Contact: mtrowbridge@rrstar.com, @matttrowbridge or 815-987-1383. Matt Trowbridge has covered sports for the Rockford Register Star for over 30 years, after previous stints in North Dakota, Delaware, Vermont and Iowa City.

This article originally appeared on Rockford Register Star: Fast-growing Rochelle tennis tournament offers something for everyone

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