It began as a dream back in 1977 for a Towanda organization and its results can be seen throughout the area today.
The event was the Towanda Tennis Tournament and during my 20-plus seasons at The Review, I can easily list the championships among my most enjoyable assignments. It was two exciting weeks (weather permitting) of non-stop photo opportunities.
The players enjoyed the friendly competition and there were plenty of bragging rights on the line from year to year. With lawn chairs in tow, numerous spectators would make the pilgrimage every August to the area’s tennis courts to take in all the action. Some would even bring copies of the day’s sports pages to keep up with the matches and results.
Each summer everyone involved with the event got to renew old acquaintances. Some scheduled their vacations around the tournament – returning to the area from out-of-town to participate. The competition drew players from throughout Bradford, Sullivan and surrounding counties. Many players ventured down from the Valley and New York State. Play was initially held at the Wysox and Masonite courts, but eventually all the action shifted to the area of Towanda High School.
When play was first served up, the event was known as the Towanda Area Jaycee Tennis Tournament. In the ensuing years, the tournament added local sponsorships and continued to thrive and grow in numbers. During its peak, the tournament was drawing 100 to 200 players with youth and adult divisions.
One of the best features of the tournament were the many levels of competition offered to the players. There were plenty of age brackets throughout two divisions, along with singles, doubles and mixed doubles. If you had the stamina, you could easily fill your two weeks with many events.
The “Weekender Division” was for those players like myself that didn’t play tennis that much, but might occasionally get together on the weekend.
The higher level of competition belonged to the “Avid Players.” It was designed for the more skilled players and the clashes were very competitive.
The tournament had originally started as an activity for area youth and that tradition continued throughout the numerous seasons of the event.
Also, win a Weekender Division event and next year you played Avid for that event. I was always pushing for the “Media Division,” but the committee just couldn’t find any other players to go against me. I’m sure there was no fear factor involved.
I did play in the tournament a couple of times. Never winning a match, I gave it my best serve. In my later years, probably much too late for me to be attempting tennis, I recall a match at the Towanda tennis courts. Approximately, halfway way through the first set, something in the upper portion of my legs said “what are you doing to us” and decided to slow me down with a slight pull in one of my aging muscles.
Needless to say, I was unable to accelerate for a return shot in front of me, to my left and to my right. Drop shots became the not-so-secret weapon of my opponent and with no physical push to go after anything, this Baker was cooked.
One of the traditions that developed over my years at The Review was “Review Photo by Bob Baker.”
As the years went on, fans and participants of the tournament noticed that during the opening days of the event I would display more photos of players who had unfortunately lost their match the previous evening. My theory was to avoid duplication — to get as many participants on the sports pages as possible. The winners would always be around for a second or third match.
After a couple years, players and fans began to take notice of my first-week pattern. “So-and-so got his picture in the paper … he must have lost his match last night,” soon became the rallying cry around the local coffee shops and tennis courts. Players would see me settling in and say “please don’t take my photo tonight, wait until next week.”
My idea was not 100 percent set in stone as the many players presented great photo opportunities that I couldn’t pass up. There were the power shots of some players, the precision of others and the grace of many. There were so many players with so many unique styles.
The players in the tournament were great sports in allowing me to photograph the event. Conditions on my end weren’t always the best. I had to do my best to appear obsolete at the net while the action was being played out.
As the years advanced, my knees suddenly didn’t recover as quickly as they did when the event first started.
However, the old courts at Masonite offered a unique version of a somewhat outdated photographer’s perch with this little storage unit between the two courts. I could position myself on it and have two matches unfold before me.
One season the tournament committee flipped the page and gave me a collection of “Review Tennis Photos of Bob Baker.” A doubles match provided an opportunity for the group to put together a collage of me playing tennis. I still have that poster some 30 years later.
Championship Saturday was the highlight of the tournament. Other than opening night, it was the day everyone looked forward too. Numerous matches were scheduled throughout the morning and early afternoon. The best of the best brought out a lot of attentive fans as they got to witness some excellent tennis play.
I made a lot of great friends presenting the tournament each summer. Probably, the toughest part of the event each year was the timing of the tournament. With the event held in August, you knew summer was winding down, but it didn’t matter … there was always next year’s tournament to look forward too. I always did.
And don’t forget to give your pet an extra hug tonight.
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