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Mixed Doubles National Champions

First row: Hank Gaddis, Kathi Amaker, Cynthia Walters, Felicia Brown, Loretta Thomas, Peggy Dingle (captain), Bob Marchi (co-captain). Back row: Mike Caulder, Holger Spann, Freddie Hardwick, and Melvin Walters
by Mike Caulder
 
Our journey began by winning our way to the State Playoffs with a 5-1 season against our local opponents playing out of Harbison Park. Every match except the last one against them was 2-1, so we got plenty match tough through the regular season. I suppose we should be appreciative of them for getting us ready. Who knew way back then that we would come so far?
 
At State we swept our flight only to lose 2-1 to UPTA in the finals in a match that included three match tie breakers. Then, after that disappointment, we got the fantastic news from Peggy and Bob that we received a wild card invitation to Southern Sectionals in Macon, GA., if we wanted to go. You bet we wanted to go!
 
At Sectionals we beat teams from Georgia, Alabama and Louisiana in our flight, then won the Sections 2-1 over a Tennessee team that I believe had been to Nationals the previous year. We upset them with the deciding court, Melvin Walters (one of our 3.5 guys) and Felicia Brown (our 2.5 lady) won the match and the Section for us at #2 in a match tie breaker against a formidable 3.5 guy and 2.5 lady from Tennessee. This win for Melvin and Felicia was an omen of what was to come. At any rate, Senior Class came out of the wildcard into Section Champs. What thrill for all of us, now we had to set our sights on going all the way! We practiced together and with other friends who helped us prepare for Nationals.
 
Arriving in Chattanooga (which turns out to be a great tennis city) in late March to compete with the best of players at our level in the Nation was both thrilling and a bit disconcerting. We contended with some unpleasant weather and some seriously good 6.0 level teams. In fact, when our master strategist and co-captain, Bob Marchi, saw the draw he realized we would have our hands full with both of the California teams (Northern first, then Southern) followed by a team from Pennsylvania representing the Middle States. 
 
We came out strong in the first round and beat Northern Cal 3-0. Next up, the Southern Cal team proved to be our biggest challenge and we lost a tough 2-1 match to them with two of the three courts going to match tie breakers that went the wrong way. Despite being down, we were not out of it.
 
Things fell our way Saturday as play moved indoors due to rain and we won against Pennsylvania 2-1 while the Northern Cal team upset Southern Cal by the same score. That left us tied with the team that had beaten us and that were staying at the same hotel as most of our team. The tie breaker came down to sets lost and we edged out our now good friends from the other SC by one set lost difference. After that we felt we could be a team of destiny.
 
We went on to defeat Puerto Rico (representing the Caribbean) 3-0 sending us into the National Championship finals against the team from the Pacific NW. We had heard rumors about these guys and that they had an 8'2" guy and a 
bunch of fit and awesome women. Turned out the guy was only 6'7" and Holger and Cynthia skillfully whittled him down and took their court handily, 6-2, 6-2. The final two courts were winding down at the same time as our #1's
moved into a match tiebreaker while our #2 team which had started a little later were in a back and forth second set after winning the first set 6-4. Hank and Peggy at #1 gave it everything they had with Hank diving for balls, coming up bloodied, but unbowed and cheered on by his teammates and So Cal fans. Peggy and Hank first led in the tie breaker then saw it slip away. 
 
Now the championship was on the court for Melvin and Felicia at the #2 spot. Both they and their opponents stepped up their games in the second set after we won the first 6-4. At 5-all in the second it looked like we were
headed for a match tiebreaker. Then, with steady replies to blistering serves from their NW opponents and great shot after great shot by first, Melvin and then, Felicia in just a few minutes it was all over!! Melvin and Felicia pulled out the victory with a 7-5 score after winning the first set 6-4! 
 
The wild card team from Columbia, SC that prided itself on its ferociously competitive, awesome ladies; a couple of two or three good ol' boys with hard headed commitment; a second generation Italian American strategist; a cool and collected, smooth operator named Melvin; along with a sleek and powerful German; all bonded through the crucible of tough matches with a few minor blips and fought its way to the top!!  
 
I hope I can speak for Captain Peggy and all of her Senior Class teammates when I paraphrase what she told us at the awards presentation, we couldn't have done it without everybody's commitment and effort. That included our "fans" (spouses who attended: my Susan, Holger's Birgit, Freddie's Eugenia, Kathi's Buddy, and Loretta's Davis) as well as the Southern Cal team which came to cheer us on in both the semis and the finals! We (especially Hank and 
Eugenia) made good friends with them.  Among our fans Eugenia Hardwick has to be considered our #1 rooter always there with encouragement and keeping our spirits up. She also made sure to get Face Book and email info on our friends from So Cal. I cannot offer my thoughts about this team without special acknowledgement for the selflessness and superb "strategery" of our beloved co-captain, Bob Marchi. Bob did all the hard work of scouting our opponents
and making lineup decisions with Peggy that no doubt were essential to our success! Thanks Bob and thanks Peggy for letting me be a part of this great group!
 
I have been fortunate to play in some State tournaments and now one Section and a National. I can say that no other tournament has compared with the Nationals for the quality of the people who played. Not only their skills, but their
attitudes and enthusiasm. All of our opponents were gracious and magnanimous toward us as I believe we were toward them. We had a great time at Nationals and I can say at least for me it was a highlight of my life - memories I will always treasure!! 
 
Thanks to Columbia Tennis League, USTA South Carolina, Southern Section and USTA League for all the hard work they put into making this an awesome experience.
 
 
 

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