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From left, tennis buddies Kurt Reser, Paul Dobyn, Chuck Zorbach, John Byrnes, Chuck Franklin and Dave Ptak get together for the “First Annual John Kirkpatrick Invitational” in memory of their friend, John Kirkpatrick, who died in December. Kirkpatrick’s racket is in the foreground. Not pictured are Joe Spurrier and Mackie Cromwell.
From left, tennis buddies Kurt Reser, Paul Dobyn, Chuck Zorbach, John Byrnes, Chuck Franklin and Dave Ptak get together for the “First Annual John Kirkpatrick Invitational” in memory of their friend, John Kirkpatrick, who died in December. Kirkpatrick’s racket is in the foreground. Not pictured are Joe Spurrier and Mackie Cromwell. (Janine Ptak)

On December 22, the tennis courts at Loyola Blakefield were the site of the “First Annual John Kirkpatrick Invitational” for tennis buddies Chuck Franklin, Dave Ptak, Paul Dobyn, Chuck Zorbach, Bob Grothman, Kurt Reser, John Byrnes, Joe Spurrier and Mackie Cromwell.

The unofficial, yet formal-sounding, event was an opportunity for these men to gather in celebration of the memory of their friend, John Kirkpatrick, who passed away suddenly on Dec. 9. The Ruxton resident was just 51 years old, with a wife, two kids and a wide circle of friends.

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In a nod to how John touched each of their lives, the players took turns using his racket during the commemorative match.

The crew has met up regularly for about five years on the tennis courts at Loyola Blakefield, somewhat ironically, as John was a Calvert Hall man (proving the bonds of friendship outweigh even long-standing rivalries, though they did sometimes set the games as “Dons versus Cards”). John was the common link among these friends, and their regular get-togethers have meant a lot to all of them.

Chuck Franklin had known Kirkpatrick for many years. “John and I grew up together, going to Stoneleigh Elementary, playing Little League baseball and hanging out at the pool,” he said. “Over the years, whether it was baseball, football, basketball or backyard capture-the-flag, there would be plenty of competition.”

Tennis is the sport that brought them together again. They reconnected on the courts at Loyola Blakefield. “I came to count on hearing from him,” Franklin said of his friend. “Always via text, referring to ‘dubs’ with a tennis ball emoji.”

Often, life made scheduling difficult, with kids’ sports calendars and other obligations. But it’s important to make room for some fun outside of the day-to-day responsibilities, and John would be sure to get them in line.

“He would figure out everyone’s conflicts and get us all out at some mutually agreeable time. I could always count on John’s ‘thumbs-up’ emoji,” Franklin said. Once on the court, they were sure to get in a good set … or four … and have a great time together.

John was the original link among all in the group. Some had longer and deeper friendships, and others were more newly brought in. But all will cherish the time they had and keep the memories alive.

“We are all certainly going to miss John,” Franklin said. “His tenacious persistence, organizing the games and on the courts, but I know his ‘thumbs-up’ attitude and one-of-a-kind laugh will continue to be with us during each point we play out on the tennis courts, and wherever else life happens to take us.”

The group got together again to play on New Year’s Day, and will continue to play any weekends the temperature is above freezing.

Here’s an idea: When you’re done reading today’s Towson Times, why not reach out and check in on someone you haven’t heard from in a while? Reconnection, in the spirit of John Kirkpatrick, because you never know how much joy it could bring today. And tomorrow is never promised.

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