Mike and Libby's "Love Affair" with Tennis

1950-1958   1959-1964   1975-1985   2001-Present

1950-1958

Tennis has been an important part of Mike's life, and well into their marriage it became part of Libby's. Mike has played tennis, off and on, for more than 65 years; in several ways it's helped to define him.   He started playing tennis at age 10, at the urging of his mother.   His father had tried for years to get him interested in sports, such as baseball and football.   A good athlete in his high school youth, it was natural that he'd want the son to follow.

Through 10, Mike had little interest athletics, and he wasn't good at anything: throwing/catching a ball; swinging a bat; etc.   (This was) a disappointment to his father, but his mother stepped in, buying Mike a cheap tennis racket, and sending him and his sister, Maureen, to the Wilmette Parks & Recreation summer program for basic tennis lessons.

He wasn't good at this, either, but he made an effort to play the sport at a local park nearby.   (We don't know if Maureen had any interest...)   Nonetheless, it kept Mike occupied that summer, as he hung around that park and tried to get people to play or hit with him.   It could be that he tried this sport as a form of "rebellion" against his father's heavy-handed attempts to be interested in other sports.   Mike's father had gone so far as to sign him up with Little League, but Mike hated that (and wasn't able to do well enough to get on the most basic team...

Mike met several players at that park (now called "Vattman Park"; one of them was a man who played with only one arm, because he couldn't move or use the other.   Mike remembers his name was "Bob".   More importantly, though, was meeting a boy 1 year older who moved to behind the tennis courts there, and who wanted to learn tennis.   This boy, David Porter, became Mike's friend, and they hung around together for hours, playing tennis and throwing/kicking a football around.   (The football skills Mike acquired this way were to become important years later...)

Another person who came to the park courts was a younger girl named Ann-Margaret Olson, who had recently moved to Wilmette with her mother.   The boys offered their "experience" with tennis to give her basic pointers, but she didn't pursue the sport much at all.   This young girl would grow up on the North Shore, attend New Trier High School and Northwestern University...and become the well-known movie star/Las Vegas entertainer, "Ann Margaret!   It is true that Mike (and his sister Maureen, too) knew Ann Margaret "back when"...

Vattman02.jpg Vattman Park  

When Mike got to high school (New Trier), he wasn't good enough to play on the team there, but he played Intramural Tennis, a recreational level of competition among classmates.   New Trier had national-class athletic teams in swimming, tennis, and other sports, but most of these athletes had private coaching and training, so students without those skills (and resources) could benefit from the school's programs and facilities.   When Mike moved to Libertyville, his tennis skills were pretty high, relative to players in the school's conference.

At Libertyvill-Fremont High, Mike joined a fledgling team for the school, in the winter of 1957.   This was a new venture for the school, which had no tennis courts and would play home matches on public courts.   Their coach was the school's English teacher, Mr. Bud Ebert, and early practices were held on the basketball court in the gym.   It was nothing like the tennis program Mike had seen at New Trier...

Even so, the level of competition in their conference was so low that the team was immediately successful: LFHS had a couple of players who were good all-around athletes and had an overall advantage over their rivals.   A new friend of Mike's, Dick Hill, was an exceptional athlete (although not having played tennis before), and he agreed to be Mike's doubles partner on the team.   Another boy in their class, Mike Lakin, was a good singles player - and that's about all the team needed to be successful in the local conference.   After one year of play, the team won the conference championship, with relative ease.

Then competition got more difficult, and the march towards Illinois State championship was started.   LFHS had to play against an expanded area of high school teams, and the difference quickly showed: the team may (or may not) have won any matches against better rivals, they soon met up with Lake Forest's experienced and much better trained team.   These boys were from the same sort of "country club play" as the New Trier teams, and it wasn't a "fair fight": the annihilation was total.

The LFHS "farm boys" limped home after the Lake Forest match, that one being the only time Mike's father ever saw his son play.   The team was feted back in Libertyville, though, as they had won their conference's championship en route to the ass-kicking at Lake Forest.   Mike was awarded a "letter" and athlete's sweater, and was permitted to join the school's "jock club".   Traditionally, the athletic sweater was black, but Mike and another team-mate chose white, and if his newness there and his living situation weren't enough, that choice made him stand out there even more.   His success on the court was enough to get some attention by the (small) colleges he explored.

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1959-1964

Mike received a (very) small scholarship: to play tennis for Coe College.   For the school, it was their first foray into that sport (hence the small investment in an athlete); for Mike, it was the only such offer he got from the few small schools he investigated.   Coe's conference opponents didn't have any serious tennis programs, either: they were focused on football, basketball and baseball.   Mike's contribution was insignificant, too, as he really wasn't a singles player.   Overall, it was a mistake for all parties...

However, Mike's tennis experience at Coe wasn't without consequence: it became the catalyst for his leaving school without graduating.   There was a "problem" at this small school, in the person of the Head of the English Department.   This professor, Signi Falk, had a reputation of prejudice against (male) athletes, and word around the campus was that no scholarship athlete dare take any class form her - failure was certain.   Unfortunately, Mike's major was English, and he couldn't avoid one of her classes.   For most of the class's semester, he was doing well (B-B+), but when he was taken out of one class by the tennis coach to travel to a match, he was immediately assigned failing grades on tests and papers.   The rumor was, for him, regrettably true, and along with his deteriorating financial situation, he had to leave school with 5 weeks to go in his Sophomore year.

His exit from Coe can't be blamed entirely on this professor, but even if he had been able to get money to continue there, a different major and other changes would have been necessary.

Upon returning to Evanston and living with his parents as he started his job at Field Enterprises, Mike went to a local park and sought pick-up tennis play.   He met several (older) men there, guys willing to let him play.   It was at that park that, when tennis couldn't be played, that Mike joined a group of guys who played touch football, every Sunday, year-round.   This activity - not the tennis - led him to meet Libby, the the rest is history...

Tennis remained a small part of Mike's activities, until he met and married Libby.   She expressed an interest in learning tennis, and after marriage they played a few times at a park in Evanston.   This wasn't a major activity for wither of them, and when their daughters were born there was no time for this work of recreation (although Mike continued playing football until they moved to Phoenix).

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1975-1985

In Phoenix, the "tennis scene" was getting into full stride about the time Libby and Mike arrived.   Libby was first to start playing there, finding a large City tennis facility, The Phoenix Tennis Center, not far from their home.   This was in 1975 or so.   Once the girls started school, Libby joined a group of young mothers who played there, and she started to meet locals.   This helped avoid a common problem young families seemed to have, where the family is "uprooted" from some other place, the husband is away at work, and the wives are stuck at home in an environment that doesn't have neighbourhoods (in the traditional sense.   A large number of divorces resulted from this situation, and tennis was a way to get out of the house during the day.

Oddly, the ensuing "tennis life" for Mike was initiated by Libby's tennis activities early in their time in Phoenix.   Mike was busy settling into his new job at Honeywell and getting to know his fellow workers and their lifestyles in Phoenix (many were transplants from other areas, like him.   Honeywell formed a company tennis team, to complete with nearby firms in the northern Valley, and Mike joined.   The teams played at hotel located close to the firms (that area had become "infested" with tech companies, and many of their employees lived in new housing developments in the north/northwest valley.  

Mike doesn't recall much about the team's success over the 2 years of competition, and the league disbanded when hotel decided they didn't want non-guests to use their courts.   He did get to know some tennis players at Honeywell; those friendships continued as Mike and Libby entered a burgeoning "tennis scene" that was evolving...   The "tennis boom" was in full swing (!) about then, and an enormous new tennis facility was being built in the northern part of the Valley, in a location close to large population growth.

At the Phoenix Tennis Center, Libby herd about this new tennis facility, to be called "Top Seed Tennis Club".   There, charter memberships were being offered at reasonable rates, and Libby convinced Mike to join TSTC.   This club was to have 36 courts, making it the largest tennis facility in the Southwest.   Soon, the club had over 1000 members and was becoming the newest "hot spot" for young families in that part of the valley.   It had a large clubhouse, restaurant & bar, Olympic-sized pool, kids' playground...and plenty of tennis competition.   There were tournaments of all types every weekend, so there was no shortage of opportunities for the members, who were mostly in the 25-40 age groups.

Mike and Libby played in many (most) of the tournaments at Top Seed, and Libby got into leagues that competed against other established clubs in the Valley.   Mike played some of this "inter-league", too, but discovered that players from other clubs were older...and craftier, as well.   The TSTC players were finding that youth and athleticism were not effective against experience and knowledge - a shock to most of them!

Another thing Mike and Libby saw during this time was that the "social" aspect of Top Seed wasn't conducive to stable marriages.   The club's restaurant and bar were all-too-easy to move to after a tennis match, and the environment often became emotional and "personal".   Mike and Libby laughingly called it "Little Peyton Place", because a high number of affairs (and divorces" occurred there.   Although their entire social life centered around tennis and TSTC, Mike and Libby's marriage survived all this, but sadly this wasn't so for many of their friends.  

They joined a group of 8 couples that played on Wednesday evenings; Mike wrote a computer program that scheduled play so that no couple had to play together, as this was a problem for some couples (like some other activities, like Bridge...).   Some of these couples became long-term friends, too, and remain so to this day, long after TSTC has gone.   For the most part, these couples were somehow immune to the affair/divorce culture the club seemed to have.

Many of these couples lived in an up-scale area that was between where Mike and Libby lived and the tennis club's location, called Moon Valley.   Their homes were generally large ranch-style houses that were quite popular at the time (1972-1979), but were different from the Copeland's home.   The couples entertained each other, so Libby was able to see numerous houses of the newer style, which was helpful as she started her Interior Design career.

In fact, it was this social association that started Libby in her career!   One on the women in this group, Joan Green, was Libby's partner in a league they played in, so she and Libby were often together.   Joan is a person who has many interests, and she researches and studies them extensively.   One day, Joan asked Libby if she'd like to join her at an Interior Design class at a local community college.   Joan didn't want to become a designer, but she was planning a project in her home and wanted to become knowledgeable enough to plan and oversee the work.   Becoming disenchanted with all the pettiness and politics that was pervading the club, Libby agreed to take the class with Joan.   This turned into a lot more than "a class", and although Joan stopped after it, Libby took to the Interior Design program at the college totally.

About this time, Mike was losing interest in the level (amount) of tennis he was playing.   Although he had friendships (some of the Honeywell league players also belong to Top Seed), competitive tournament play every weekend, along with evening social play, was wearing thing.   He found himself losing to some players he felt weren't as good (?) - but probably were more serious than Mike - and sought "an edge" that might turn things around in that respect.   (Yes, tennis was then a rather "big deal" for him...)

He thought it might be "conditioning", and one of his friends there mentioned that he was "running".   Running and jogging were becoming enormously popular at the time (1977), and Mike had a long canal bank near his home that was perfect for running.   He attended a short seminar the city gave on how to run (helpful), and started running on the canal bank a few days a week.   This produced some new muscle soreness and body aches, and he stopped playing tennis.   In fact, this was the start of a 23 year tennis hiatus...

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2001-Present

In 2001 life changed greatly for Mike and LIbby.   They sold their home in north Phoenix and moved to a high-rise condo in mid-town Phoenix.   They also joined the Phoenix Country Club, which was paid for by Libby's business, Copeland Interiors, Inc..   This happened because of (1) its proximity to their new home and (2) hope that being there might bring some new business.   After joining, they found it was predominately a golf club, but it did have a good tennis facility, too.

Mike hadn't so much as hit a tennis ball for over 20 years, and his equipment was outdated and unusable.   He invested in new racquets, shoes, and clothes (the club had a dress code), an a few lessons from the pro there.   The pro also talked him into joining a men's clinic there, both to improve his game and to meet other members.   There he met a number of guys with whom he played on weekends.   Libby joined a lady's clinic, but those women were much younger, and the drills and activities were quite strenuous.   (Also, she had little to contribute to their conversations, which focused on their kids and their various schools.)   It was up to Mike to "justify" their membership by making friends and possible contacts for her interior design firm.   He found some new business there, but really he was the only family member who used the club...

At the time, Mike had little to do but play tennis at the club: clinics, lessons, recreational play, and hitting against the club's ball machine.   He'd do this mostly in mornings, and then he'd eat breakfast there.   When the Club Championships came up, he played in several...and won the Senior Men's championship.   (Full disclosure: he played only one match, beating an 84 year man...)   Thereafter, the head pro decided not to include that division, so Mike's "moment of glory" was just that: a moment.

Libby and Mike belonged to the club for 10 years, and he made quite a few friends on the courts.   A few men he played with socially played at other places (private homes, city parks, etc.), and he was invited to play now and then at other locales.   One such "connection" ultimately led to the volunteer work at the airport, which he's doing to this day.  

10 years at PCC was more than enough, and increasing costs at the downtown condo caused them to (1) leave the cub and (2) sell their condo unit and purchase a smaller house.   By this time, Mike had developed a new "tennis connection" that allowed him to play several times a week with a fair-sized group of 60-85 year-old men.   This was the so-called "Drop-ins", an informal group of recreational players who play the the Phoenix Tennis Center.   Mike plays with them on Wednesdays & Fridays, but can't do so on Monday when he works at the airport.

This "drop in" group has changed Mike's life a lot.   First, they are all past the point where winning or losing matters, so the play is loose, fun and non-stressful.   Many of the guys conclude play by driving to a nearby Einstein's Bagels store, where they drink coffee (or tea) and act like old ladies comparing ailments.   Mike had never done such a thing (hang out with other guys) before, and he says it's changed his life!

Mike found this group via his airport "Navigator job": almost as soon as he was assigned a shift day & time, he got into a discussion with one of his fellow volunteers, John Carpenter.   John is a naturally friendly guy (a former travelling salesman) who sort of took Mike "under his wing" as he started working there.   As they talked, John mentioned the tennis group he played in, and invited Mike to show up and see if he might fit into the play level.   Mike showed up, asked the organizer (Don "Cowboy" Shourds) if he could step in, and more than 5 years later Mike is a steady participant.   He might also say that although the tennis play is good and all, it's the "coffee" that follows which keeps him showing up (Mike doesn't actually drink coffee: it's always iced tea).  

These guys might be accused of being "demented" (their age qualifies), because they play every week of the year, regardless of the heat in Phoenix.

The only reason they don't play is rain (rare in Phoenix); if so, some of the group goes to coffee anyway...

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Last Updated: September 13, 2018