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Tennis And My Son

  

It was not a sport I grew up with, being, as it was, well beyond the financial ken of my struggling family back in the Bronx.  And there were not many tennis courts anyway in those crowded, teeming neighborhoods.  Perhaps there were, but I never sought them out and accommodated myself early to the three working class sports that we could afford: baseball, basketball, and football, all requiring limited equipment, with fields and courts already present at the many neighborhood school yards.  None of these involved significant expenditures and so I reconciled myself to these and only these - and knew nothing of tennis. 

The first inkling of my abiding ignorance occurred watching my son on the Junior Varsity at the Jasper High School.  The system and language of keeping score and determining winners was, I thought, inscrutable, and I spent the first couple of years catching up with the vast chasms in my grasp of the sport.  I soon learned of singles, doubles, ones, twos, and, of course, the very bizarre scoring method, such as “love” (for “zero”), fifteen, thirty, and forty (points one through three),“deuce,” “set point,” tie breaker, and so on, all quite alien to someone who grew up knowing only of the New York Yankees and the peculiar traditions of our national pastime.    

There were also tennis lessons, which seemed interminable.  In baseball, football, or basketball, one didn’t have “lessons,” rather one just practiced.  Not so tennis.  In this sport, lessons apparently were required if one wanted to be “good.”  And so year round lessons, tournaments, not to mention, new sneakers, rackets, and bags to hold the equipment were necessary. And this went on for years.  There was no off-season with tennis, unlike other sports. And, so, it was not an inexpensive passion.  The time requirements were also not insubstantial.  My weekends no longer belonged to me, nor my summers.  And, if one’s children were also involved in band, well then there was no such thing as a free weekend or summer - ever.  

There was the physical training, which too was not insignificant.  Cardiovascular fitness was a must if one were to endure those long, grueling matches.  Especially singles.  Tennis was demanding not just in terms of skill, nuance, and artistry, but equally so in stamina, quickness, and power. And so I observed a pudgy kid become lean, swift, and very strong. 

There was also the crucial element of will.  In all of sports, there was, I thought, nothing as punishing as singles tennis; facing one another across that vast, green expanse, two young gladiators thrashing one another remorselessly, cutting, dashing, slicing, each swing a titanic effort, an ongoing merciless assault against the other, pouring one’s full measure into the return, struggling savagely even for a single point, relentless, hand to hand combat, only across a court and using a ball and racket instead of a lance or sword. And here too I watched an often distracted child become focused, intense, and able to muster great force of will and determination.

It was not my choice, tennis.  I had preferred baseball.  My sport. And he had earlier shown much promise in it.  Furthermore, he was a switch hitter like Mickey Mantle, my boyhood idol whom I had watched as a youth at Yankee Stadium, and whose newspaper images and stories I papered my wall and ceiling with.  Baseball to me was life itself, and it seemed to be for him as well.  But, in the end, he chose tennis.  At the time, I was disappointed, but on this, it turns out, his instincts were correct.

The early morning matches in late summer and early fall were spectacular.  There were the warm ups, announcements, introductions, and anthem, which were stirring; before us, then, appeared the broad savannahs of sparkling, emerald courts, marked off in white, the braided nets rimmed in ivory, the black and red score cards, which we watched breathlessly to determine who was ahead; so splendid a meadow, as I had never beheld, all residing beneath a canopy of blue and an ascending sun, radiant like a medallion; here, young men battled, with honor and mastery, they, the pride of their families and schools, the best of their year, the fruit of their communities; yes, these were sublime moments.

There was also a “tennis family:” the other boys, the coaches, parents, and their families.  This, too, was novel.  I overnight grew a much larger clan.  And we saw each other frequently, especially during the season, far more often than my own extended family, which was far away.  At the games, of course, but also at the various functions, dinners, barbecues, and banquets, convivial and happy occasions all.  And this became the family of my son too.  He swore fealty and allegiance to them as if related by blood or perhaps something stronger if such a thing exists.

Then came the sectionals, regionals, semi-state, and, holy of holies, state, in Indianapolis.  There was a separate track for One Singles and One Doubles, and my young ward and his neighbor (and lifelong friend) represented our school and community with passion and flair, falling in the end only to mighty Carmel, finishing at number two in the state, yes, a regret for them, but for me an accomplishment that ranks amongst my most cherished memories as a parent. 

Tennis is an elite sport, a bracing, yet gentlemanly form of competition that, perhaps more than any other, is won or lost as much in the minds of the players as on the field; it requires fanatical focus, intensity, and drive; and on the court, particularly for singles, it is entirely individualistic and painfully demanding.  You are alone but for your adversary.  Triumph or defeat lay in your hands alone. It is competition at its most elevated, sport at its most ideal, both transcendent and exacting, equally athletic and cerebral.

I salute our school, its students, coaches, and faculty, its traditions and history, and the many opportunities it provides for our sons and daughters to mature, succeed, and become leaders.

 

Comments

  • jeff moss

    April 1, 2013

    Great article, you are truly fortunate to have such a gifted son and family.

  • jeff moss

    April 1, 2013

    Great article, you are truly fortunate to have such a gifted son and family.

  • jeff moss

    April 1, 2013

    Great article, you are truly fortunate to have such a gifted son and family.

  • jeff moss

    April 1, 2013

    Great article, you are truly fortunate to have such a gifted son and family.

  • Lonnie Moss

    April 1, 2013

    My Brother Rick: I have always admired your great talent in getting your quality message across. Even as teenagers in Crotona Park when I was 16 and you were 14 how you always had great tenacity to relate to the situation at hand in an extremely descriptive manner. You have a tremedous talent.

    Send it to the NY Times....

  • Larry Moss

    April 2, 2013

    Wonderful story--there is nothing like competitive sports to make a person stronger and help bring a family closer. You and Ying are doing a fantastic job--wonderful, warm and loving parents. Love, Larry and Helen (gums/dents and watermelon)

  • Bernie Perry

    April 2, 2013

    On the button.. After playing paddleball in Spring Valley & Monsey and now doing tennis every day in Fl.I can relate to teaching, coaching and practicing with the grandchildren in their pursuit of baseball, basketball & tennis skills. Another great column. Thanx!!

  • Brian Wilson

    April 2, 2013

    Dr. Moss,
    Thank you for sharing your personal insights. Having a 5 year old son myself, I wonder what path he will take. Rather than directing him down toward my childhood pastimes, my hope is that he too will learn those valuable qualities of personal responsibility, discipline, and initiative; whichever path he chooses.

  • Harvey Chaimowitz

    April 2, 2013

    What begins as a pleasant, uplifting piece that anyone can relate to degenerates into needless verbosity, words piled upon words without sufficient justification, for example, humor or satire, where wordage can enhance comic effect. But not here. The prose grows increasingly grimmer as the author finally reaches his true aim of societal criticism and how to triumph over liberalism. If there are no liberalminded tennis enthusiasts, then the game would be more rotten than any society.

  • Harvey Chaimowitz

    April 2, 2013

    What begins as a pleasant, uplifting piece that anyone can relate to degenerates into needless verbosity, words piled upon words without sufficient justification, for example, humor or satire, where wordage can enhance comic effect. But not here. The prose grows increasingly grimmer as the author finally reaches his true aim of societal criticism and how to triumph over liberalism. If there are no liberalminded tennis enthusiasts, then the game would be more rotten than any society.

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