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Columbia tennis seniors double on fun, friendship

For the Columbia Flier
16 men with caps on their heads, a tennis racquet in one hand and playing as if they forgot their own personal

The sky was blue, the air crisp. An invigorating morning that forgot the calendar said mid-July.

And there they were. Sixteen men with caps on their heads, a tennis racquet in one hand and playing as if they forgot their own personal calendars.

The Har-Tru courts at Hobbit's Glen belong to them. Four doubles matches ensued. This was serious, or so it appeared.

"Sorry," said one of the players to an opponent across the net. "I wasn't aiming for you, but I'm a very poor shot."

This group of men - seniors ranging in their 60s to 80s - play for the fun of it. They don't keep standings, there is no schedule made weeks in advance, and there is no league.

"It's an opportunity to play competitive tennis with a lot of great guys but without the pressure of USTA (United States Tennis Association)," said Jim Davis, 63, of Highland, after his doubles match. "You're not worrying about if you win or lose, you're worrying about playing well and you're having fun."

It is self-organized, thanks mainly to two people who set up the doubles matches. Mike Glasgow, 71, of Columbia, organizes morning matches Tuesdays and Thursdays at Hobbit's Glen and uses the Owen Brown bubble when it rains and during the winter. Dave Thompson, 68, of Columbia, organizes mostly afternoon matches on Mondays and Fridays at Hobbit's Glen and uses the Athletic Club during inclement weather and the winter. All three facilities are run by the Columbia Association.

Glasgow and Thompson send out emails each week to see who wants to play the following week. Their lists have between 50 and 60 players, and many names are on both. There is a core group of about 25 who play consistently.

"It keeps them off the street," joked Thompson, who plays up to four days a week. "That's what it's good for. Taking these old guys off the street so they don't hassle anybody, they don't get arrested."

They are not reluctant to poke fun at themselves - during the match and afterward. The banter is part of what makes it such fun.

"Everybody is pretty much from the same era, so it's very sociable," said Mike Pittard, 70, of Columbia. "It's not all that competitive, but the level of play is very good. It's just not old guys toddling around. Most of them are running around pretty well. It would be pretty surprising for most people to see how active these folks are."

"We're friends, but the guys out there are playing as hard as they can, as competitive as they can," said Milt Kline, 80. "It's good, friendly, seniors' tennis."

Kline, who lived in Columbia for 49 years before he and his wife downsized and moved to Elkridge a few years ago, either plays matches or practices four times a week.

"The guys in our 80s, we keep playing because we love it," said Kline. "It's fun and it's tremendous camaraderie. There are some guys here I have played with for 40 years."

One of them is Vic Warch, 79, who still cuts hair at the Cutting Zone in Columbia and is feeling better after bypass surgery in early June.

"I've been playing with Milt since 1976," said Warch, who plans to start hitting again in August. "It's fun with the guys you've played with over the years. I still have a passion for this game."

So does Harvey Zorbaugh, who will turn 85 in October and works at the Athletic Club and Wilde Lake Tennis Club.

Zorbaugh, who has been ranked nationally in USTA, plays up to three times a week.

"I would really like to play in the first USTA singles tournament for men 100 and over, if that were possible," said Zorbaugh. "I don't know if I'm going to make it, but that's my goal."

Zorbaugh adds that the USTA doesn't have a 100-and-over division, "but they will by the time I get up there," he said. "They now have a 90-and-over and some of those guys are great singles players. I think they will have to make a 95-and-over, although there are not as many people in the draw as there used to be."

He's content with the present. "This is just a great group of men with all kinds of former jobs and experiences. I just enjoy being around them. I enjoy the tennis, but I enjoy as much the conversations after the tennis."

Some players in the seniors' group, such as Leo Bruette, chairman of the Columbia Tennis Committee, continue to play in the USTA. He doesn't play a lot in the seniors' group because the 67-year-old still works at BDO, an international CPA firm where he plans to retire next year.

"Many of the guys have played in leagues for a lot of years, and this is one way to play more as opposed to playing in some of the leagues," said Bruette, of Columbia. "It's fun, it's exercise, it's camaraderie, it's male bonding, it's whatever you want to call it. But there is more emphasis on the friendly."

Dave Paulson, 83, moved to Columbia in 1972. He's a singles player at heart, but is playing doubles at least once a week. He said having cataract surgery on both eyes over the winter and playing more has made him a better doubles player.

"You don't have to be a great player," said Paulson. "When I first started in this group I was definitely in the bottom quarter. But when I made a good shot, everyone complimented me. They don't take it too seriously."

Glasgow sends out emails to his group and the first people to respond play. He randomly assigns players to a court and has them make the teams. "I look at their skill level, but I try not to influence it," Glasgow said about the teams.

Thompson assigns teams. "I try to put out even courts so nobody kills each other," he said.

"The guys who play have a tremendous appreciation for what Mike and Dave do," said Bruette.

"They are the ringleaders," added Bruce Holbrook, 62, the Columbia Association's head tennis professional.

Glasgow started playing tennis at 34. He said he had been away from competitive tennis for 30 years before he took over organizing the Tuesday-Thursday group five years ago.

"I told them I would take over so they would let me play," said Glasgow. "I needed an opportunity to get back to playing. They tolerated me and I got better."

Pete Johnson, 85, who works part-time at the Howard Community College library, plays in Columbia and also on the courts at Applied Physics Laboratory in North Laurel.

"I think I'm a much better player now than I was 20 to 30 years ago because I play more," said Johnson. "And I'm still trying to improve."

For Karl Boin, 79, of Ellicott City, the seniors' group is about "great competition and great communication. You learn about other people and what they did in their life."

It's also about "renewing friendships," said Boin, and recalling stories - some of them embarrassing.

"There are thousands of stories from the old days," Boin said.

But these players aren't living in the past.

"I'd rather do this than anything else," said Warch, who turns 80 on July 28. "Just being active. Sitting down doesn't do it for me."

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