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Charlotte's Bad News Bears

February 25, 2003 10:52 AM

This is a story of a tennis team; no, it’s more than a tennis team. This is a story of a group of men who began playing tennis together in the early 80’s. To be more exact, it was in the early l980’s that four guys began playing tennis together on a regular basis. Then one by one, the foursome grew into 8, then 10, then 12 and beyond. When their totals reached 20, they commandeered two courts for Saturday and Sunday at the club they belonged; and the “Bad News Bears” tennis program was born. These two days were set aside to play and with certain rules (not many pertaining to tennis), the pattern was set. A player would need an invitation to play with this group, but invites were easy to get. The schedule of each day’s play was determined by “Papa Bear”, aka. Louis Lineberger; and he decided the make-up of teams and opponents. He ruled with an iron fist; if you couldn’t manage verbal abuse, you didn’t need to play with the Bears. You could hit several wonderful shots and not hear a word, but miss one and you would think, by the feedback you would get, that everyone was watching only you. All this byplay has only strengthened the bonding of the players.

As the group continued to grow, the thought of a tennis team became a reality when the USTA and the NCTA came into being for local players. Throughout the ensuing years, the Bears traveled many miles to play and enjoy tennis. Although the make-up of the teams continually changed, some through age requirements and others through attrition, the Bears’ philosophy remained. They never saw a tournament they didn’t enjoy and a loss they couldn’t overcome. The success of this group of men is legendary, even it is only in their minds. Sitting with them, one will hear them talk of victories that occurred in the 80’s & 90’s as if they were just yesterday. Many of those starting out with the group no longer play due to age or health reasons, but they follow the others with a fervor that is unsurpassed. Many times there will be as many non-players attending a match as there are players. These guys win together and lose together; theirs is a camaraderie not often seen.

Leading this group for the past few years is “Coach” Doug Estes. You may remember the TV ditty, “Once upon a time there was a man named Jed”. Well, it could be rephrased to read, “Once upon a time there was a coach named Doug- Estes that is”. Doug has shouldered the responsibility of determining the members of the team, the “teams” within the team, and the order in which they will play. He has to find and develop the compatibility of individuals as well as putting their skills together to get the most effective results. His most difficult task is dealing with the egos of the players involved. All of the members of the team have been successful in life’s activities and consider themselves accomplished tennis players. Successfully handling his duties, Doug has mentored this team to many league championships and several state championships at different levels of play. He has often said of his coaching, “I just go out into the woods by myself and suddenly, there is a vision”.

Their road trips defy description. One member, on his first trip, remarked “They stop often for beverages, and now and then, someone will ask if anyone has thought to check the gas gauge”. The two-way communication used when they are caravanning to and from matches and tournaments is priceless.

This group is composed of men genuinely interested in each other as human beings. When one of the group suffers an injury or illness, there is a concern by the others that is difficult to define. These grizzled old veterans become caregivers to those in need and provide support when the opportunity arises. Most are retired now, and this togetherness is without parallel.

Recently, they won the NC Super Senior 3.5 tournament and ventured to Columbus, GA to participate in the Southern Region’s championships. After several stirring victories, they fell in the finals to a fine team from South Carolina. They were disappointed to fall short of their goal since they thought victory was within their grasp. It didn’t take long for them to return to the fun-loving group that they have always been; the trip home to Charlotte was filled with laughter and reliving the games, including the unwelcome weather that haunted the tournament and yes, plans to return next year and get to the top rung.

The Bears are more than just a tennis team; they epitomize what the sport should be about.

 

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