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Teammates or opponents, Doves thrive on friendly competition Family divides loyalties between Bel Air, Wright


It seems reasonable that a basketball hoop is in the driveway of the Dove home in Bel Air. Given more room, there likely would be a tennis court. Inside, a table tennis table and board games dominate one room.

This is a family that thrives on competition.

The latest example was in the Harford County tennis championships last week, where daughter Kristal, a Bel Air High senior, competed in girls doubles. Her mother, Nancy, coaches the Bel Air team, and her father, Ron, is an assistant coach for the C. Milton Wright team.

There are also three grown sons, all of whom participated in athletics at Bel Air High. Over the years, foreign exchange students and foster children also have been part of the family.

In recent years, the rivalry between C. Milton Wright and Bel Air has made for some tense times at the Dove dinner table. Still, students from both schools have been almost like family, for the children have played with and against so many of them in recreation programs and summer outings.

Even so, it's still fierce competition, said more than one family member.

The competition goes back more than 30 years, to when Ron, from western Pennsylvania, and Nancy, from Tennessee, were math majors and tennis players at Milligan (Tenn.) College. They graduated in the morning, were married in the afternoon, and moved to Maryland.

"We had friends here, and this was one of the few places we could get jobs in the same system," Nancy said. "I taught in the Bel Air Middle School, and Ron in Aberdeen High School. We had one car and I didn't want to have to drive in the winter."

Ron was a JV basketball coach, and active in getting tennis going as a high school sport in the county. Bel Air, Edgewood and Aberdeen had early teams, the coaches were volunteers and the teams went all over to play matches.

Later, the Doves made the first of two moves to Arkansas, when Ron pursued graduate degrees at the University of Arkansas. The first time they returned to Maryland, Ron took over as coach of a Bel Air tennis team, which had won close to 70 matches, and stretched it to more than 100.

Although John Graybeal was a state singles champion, and Kim Fleming and Patty Owen won a state doubles title, "the thing I remember most about those years was the time we played McDonogh [at Bel Air], and Pam Shriver beat Mike Tolley," Ron said. "They beat us, 5-4, but I have never seen so many people for a high school tennis match."

By the time the family returned after the second Arkansas move, C. Milton Wright had opened, and Ron went there as a math teacher and tennis coach. Over the past six years, he has continued to teach and to be involved as a coach with the tennis and basketball programs.

Meanwhile, Nancy gave up teaching as the children came along, went to Harford Community College to get nursing credits (and played on the women's tennis team), and more recently became involved with the county home teaching program.

Talking about the children brings a laugh, as the parents explain their oldest son, Ron II, 28, was at an Aberdeen basketball game before he was a week old; son, Dennis, 24, was born while his father was at a tennis match, and Kristal, 18 this week, was born while her father was running a district tennis tournament at the community college.

Although several years younger than her brothers, Kristal related well to them and their friends, and there were always games.

"She has idols on all the [pro] teams, too, and she's the No. 1 fan of any sport you name," Nancy said.

"In school, when we'd go on field trips or bus trips, we played games," Kristal said. "Our friends like coming over to the house, because we are a family who does things."

At Bel Air High School, the three boys -- Ron, Dennis, and Don -- played tennis, with Dennis winning a county title, then forsaking a chance to play in the regionals to be in Ron's wedding.

Recently, Ron, a Washington attorney living in Silver Spring with his wife and son, spoke of summer camping trips that included tennis matches. "Dennis and Don had natural athletic ability, but they could never beat our father, and sometimes not mother, either," he said.

And, according to Dennis, who lives with his parents and commutes to his job as a computer analyst in Cherry Hill, N.J., "Even now, we have some intense family pingpong games on Sunday afternoons, and it's not hard to get a board game going."

Don, 26, a research analyst, is married and lives in Bel Air. He is an assistant varsity basketball coach at Bel Air High.

Of the close-knit family, Kristal said, "Our family life is the best, and throwing in athletics just makes it better."

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