Trash talk at a tennis match? Once a year, the Upper Valley's players embrace it

Karen Seltzer, Mary Reynolds, and Janet Simmons (L to R) at the Boss Tennis Center

You know the fiery little gleam tennis players get in their eyes when they're asked about their sport? Now imagine what it's like when they're talking tennis for a cause.

Actually, you probably can't. When I sat down with Mary Reynolds, Karen Seltzer, and Janet Simmons at Dartmouth's Boss Tennis Center to talk over their efforts to organize the March 3rd Team Tennis to Smash Cancer fundraiser for the Norris Cotton Cancer Center, they were aglow. Not just about the event, but about tennis itself. 

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Over the past 4 years a small organizing committee led by Mary Reynolds and supported by Dave Jones, the Boss Tennis Center's manager, has rallied the Upper Valley's tight-knit community of tennis enthusiasts to raise $180,000 to fight cancer. On March 3rd, they're aiming to take in another $60,000. "We put this event in the middle of mud season for a reason," says Janet. "It’s a good way to break up the monotony. These courts are a beautiful ray of sunshine in the middle of mud season."

And here's what's cool: Tennis doesn't really lend itself to fundraising -- not like bike rides or running races, where people can just show up and you're not limited by court space. So this particular event draws people from all over the region--the local clubs at the River Valley Club and Storrs Pond, players from Dartmouth and Hanover High, and clubs from Burlington VT, Goffstown and Bedford NH, and elsewhere. A couple of years ago, a team came up from New York City to support the mother of a Dartmouth track coach who'd passed away. They couldn't make it last year, so they held a virtual companion event down there.

"Tennis players tend to be passionate about their sport," says Mary, "and when they hear about something like this, if they've been affected by cancer, they say, 'I want to use my sport to help.'" This goes for people from high-school age to... Mary turns to her companions: "Martha's what, 86?" Then turns back. "That’s the other beauty of tennis, you can play your whole life competitively," she says.

Though Karen and Janet just joined the organizing committee last year, they've been involved in Team Tennis since the beginning, when they joined a team to help support Karen after her sister, Barbara, died suddenly of cancer. "We tried to get her up here to Norris Cotton," Karen says. "But it was too late." 

Since then, they and lots of other players have found a personal reason to join the event. "That first year, I think we all started to support Karen," Janet says. "This had just happened, and so suddenly. But throughout the years you realize how many other people are affected." 

This is amplified in a small community like the Upper Valley, where people of all sorts like to pick up a racket. "Not only do you know many people who are treated for cancer," says Mary, "but you know the people at the hospital who are treating them -- they're playing tennis. And this money is going for early-stage research, and we know the docs who are doing this research. That's huge."

All in all, about 100 people will play in teams of four, through a series of 20-minute games. The organizers keep track of winners and announce them -- these are tennis players, after all -- but that's not really the point. "We wanted to take away the competitive notion of the sport, and shift it to competition for fundraising," says Mary. 

"You do get bragging rights," Karen adds. "But there’s no prize for whoever wins the thing. Though we’re talking maybe a case of balls this year." And, unlike the hushed, breathe-too-hard-and-you-get-glared-at atmosphere at an actual tennis tournament, there's a lot of trash talk and shouts of encouragement at the event. "We know most of the people, it’s a community, and with the new ones it’s very welcoming," Karen says. "There's a lot of 'Congratulations!' and 'Dare you to do that again!' Where with other matches it’s quiet and nerve-wracking."

But underlying the camaraderie, there's also a full awareness of why everyone is there. "Every year," Mary says, "there'll be a group that comes because of someone with a new diagnosis. There was a fellow at the Tuck School who got sick and was treated at the Cancer Center, and Tuck sent two teams over and raised a lot of money. People rally. And because it’s only 100 people, you learn their stories, and why they're here."

Even if you don't play tennis, there are plenty of reasons to stop by the Boss Tennis Center on March 3. There's a raffle and a silent auction. And -- especially toward the end of the day, when the Dartmouth players and coaches and the occasional pro turn out -- you'll see some terrific tennis being played. You'll find all the details here.

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