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These players are on Top of World

By NANCY MORGAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 4, 2000


Fun, fitness and frivolity run rampant on the tennis courts at the Top of the World adult community in north Clearwater.

Venture to either of the two sets of hard courts on the west side of Belcher Road and one will encounter a family of players with decades of participation and a limitless love of life.

"We all take great pride in the fact that we're still playing," said Jay Miller, 85. "We're out here exercising and having fun."

Miller is tournament director for the Top of the World tennis club and recently coordinated the club's spring event. The former Ohioan reached the mixed doubles final with Dorothy Proteau, 88, of Illinois. Miller, a former college basketball player and high school math teacher and tennis coach, has played tennis for 75 years.

"Not everyone here has played for as long a time as I have," said Miller. "Some only started when they moved here. Each time we play, though, we have between 12 to 14 players at the two courts, and we rotate in and out."

In the spring tournament, Miller randomly selected partners for the doubles divisions.

"I am still competitive by nature," said Proteau, who has played tennis since she moved here 20 years ago. "I like to hit that ball. In the tournament, I just got the ball back, and Jay made the winners. We were surprised to win first one, then two and then three matches to get to the final.

"I think for many of us, getting out and socializing is the biggest reason for playing."

Catherine Early, who won the women's singles and teamed with Evelyn Reece to win in doubles, couldn't agree more. Early hadn't played tennis in 20 years when she and her husband moved from New Jersey into one of the 5,800 apartments at Top of the World. For the last two years, Early said, playing tennis has provided her an outlet of relief while she deals with her husband's Alzheimer's illness.

"I wasn't even planning on playing in the tournament, although the social aspect of coming out with the group makes it all worthwhile," said Early. "Playing has really saved my own life."

Reece chose tennis over golf when the former Kansas resident compared the time and cost. Now, more than saving time and money, Reece said, coming out each day to play, laugh and socialize is the best savings of the day.

After Dee Fisher, 78, lost her husband four years ago, morning tennis was the first good reason to get up and start the day. Fisher didn't begin playing tennis until she was in her 50s and had raised four sons. Two years ago, she and Bill Reece won the mixed doubles.

"I've lived here six years and look forward so much to playing tennis," said Fisher, from Pennsylvania. "With the loss of my husband, tennis has given me a reason to get up and get about each day."

Robert Cochran is the second-year president of the Top of the World tennis club, which has more than 100 members. He is assisted by vice president Ann Talner, secretary Marian Marrone, treasurer Dorothy Lyijnen, Miller and social director Dot Kastrol.

"I started playing tennis when I moved here from New York about four years ago," said Cochran. "We have a lot of fun together on the courts and do some social get-togethers off the court as well."

An incentive to continue playing tennis at Top of the World is membership in the elite 80-and-over club. Current members are Proteau, Miller, Lee Becerra, George Church, George Schmittke, Al Malter, Jim Rodgers, Spike Scharn, Herb Abrams, Art Rahson and Eugene Salerni. BOWL RESULTS: At the Easter Bowl Junior Tennis Championships, a national tournament held in Palm Springs, Calif., last month, unseeded Alexandria Liles upset a No. 15 seed from New York and a No. 24 seed from Louisiana en route to the 16-and-under semifinals, where she lost 7-5, 6-4 to No. 9 Theresa Logar of Minnesota.

In this month's First Union Toyota Gator Bowl Junior Tennis Championships at the ATP Tour International Headquarters in Ponte Vedra Beach, Liles, 14, advanced to the 18s final after upsetting the No. 5, No. 1 and No. 3 seeds. In the final, Liles lost 6-4, 6-3.

Kelly Nelson advanced to the girls 16 semifinal round and Bugsy Bauer to the 14s; quarterfinalists were Courtney Ulery (12s), Keilly Ulery (12s), Rachel Silverberg (12s) and Jennifer Dent (16s).

GREY RECOGNIZED: Lori Grey, a 1999 graduate of Seminole High School and now a freshman at the University of Georgia, was named the Southeastern Conference's first Freshman Player of the Year and was selected first-team All-SEC for her 15-5 singles record and her doubles results with Marissa Catlin of Clearwater. Grey and Catlin also earned a No. 2 national doubles ranking.

This summer, Grey will travel to Newport, R.I., to receive one of four Bill Talbert Junior Sportsmanship awards presented by the USTA during enshrinement of Martina Navratilova into the International Hall of Fame.

SPRING CLASSIC RESULTS: Nancy Boyce and Les Mandelker were among singles winners in this month's Spring Classic at the Phil Green Tennis Academy at Safety Harbor Spa. Boyce won the women's 45-and-under title; Mandelker the 55s. Bob Ironsmith was a finalist in the 35s.

TEAM TENNIS: Playoffs in the USA Junior Team Tennis spring session concluded last weekend with the North Pinellas YMCA Red team winning the 12s over a second North Pinellas team, and Treasure Island Golf, Tennis and Recreation Center winning the 14s in a playoff with Royal Racquet Club.

Winning for the North Pinellas Red squad were Laxman Piccipan in No. 1 singles, Amy Oelschlaeger in No. 3 and Subu Piccipan in No. 4. Tyler Henderson and Michael Menosky won in doubles.

Signups are ongoing for the USA Team Tennis summer session. The six- to eight-week season begins match play the week of May 23 at a $30 cost per player. Call 402-1543.

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