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Local seniors benefiting from Northeast Georgia Tennis Association's senior division
USTA chapter's newest league targets players aged 65 and over
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Peggy Blackmon prepares to serve Friday, June 15, 2018 during a Northeast Georgia Tennis Association match at Brenau University. The NGTA has a flourishing member base of players over the age of 70 and serves Banks, Dawson, Habersham, Hall, Lumpkin, Stephens and White Counties. - photo by Scott Rogers

Tennis players Dorrie Pyne and Marie Bartlett never seem to grow tired of clarifying their age to opponents on match days.

They’ve shown time and time again that age doesn’t seem to matter when you can consistently turn in the winning scorecard or earn a championship crown in the sport.

Age is just another number. The Northeast Georgia Tennis Association seems to agree.

This year Bartlett and Pyne, among other area players, have taken full advantage of the organization’s 65-and-over league. Of the 400 active players to compete in a variety of age groups and levels in the NEGTA, 70 make up this newest senior division.

“You don’t have to play professionally; you can play at a novice level and play as much as anybody else,” said Doris Sosebee, 81.

One of the smallest chapters at the local level for the United States Tennis Association, the NEGTA has provided a competitive outlet for any and all players in Banks, Dawson, Habersham, Hall, Lumpkin, Stephens and White Counties since 1981. The non-profit association offers a number of leagues throughout the year, and all proceeds go toward the growth and development of tennis in the region.

Much like the neighboring ALTA and metro-Atlanta USTA leagues, senior-level players can now reap the physical and emotional benefits tennis presents.

The four 65-and-over teams operate out of Brenau University, Cresswinds at Lake Lanier, the Chattahoochee County Club and Chestatee.

“It’s a wonderful thing,” said Pyne, 87, of Gainesville. “I’ve done hockey, softball and basketball; I’ve done all of them. But tennis is one you can keep doing for a long time.”

Sosebee, an active player since 1977 who helped form the NEGTA in the 80s, said she enjoys being around the genuine camaraderie shared among young and “matured” participants. But she likes the convenience factor more than anything else — before the NEGTA, Sosebee drove far distances for ALTA and USTA. She currently plays out of the Chattahoochee Country Club in Gainesville.

“People can go out and play for two hours and then go home to their families, whereas with golf you’re out there half a day,” Sosebee said. “The fact that it can be as rigorous and slow as you want it to be, people can judge their own abilities and levels.”

For Bartlett, tennis filled a void once created by post-retirement woes.

“It was lonely, then tennis really filled that gap,” said Bartlett, in her eighth year as the NEGTA president and a player since 2004. “I met friends and even some of my best friends through tennis.”

Still, there’s nothing wrong with a little healthy competition. Standing at 4-foot-10, Pyne said she has learned over time to tame her fierce, competitive demeanor. That still doesn’t stop the soon-to-be 88-year-old from frustrating her 60-something opponents within the lines.

“I really like to dropshot and lob,” said Pyne, a student of the game since the age of 10. “I like to draw then up to the net, and then hit it over their heads. But I like all the shots. I like the whole game.”

Bartlett, 77, currently plays at the 3.0 level alongside Pyne and has captained teams since 2005, winning multiple championships at the state level during that span.

Tennis also seemed to reveal something else in these women particularly.

Raising four children was Pyne’s only hiatus from tennis before tearing her meniscus in 2002. Even then, the light inside her never dimmed. After a three-year lull, Pyne followed her intuition to get back in the swing of things.

“I said to my husband (Bob), ‘There’s a tennis court, I am gonna go hit a few balls just for fun — I won’t run,’” Pyne recalled. “But next thing you know, you’re running. I got back to it.”

And Bartlett, a stroke survivor of four years, said tennis was the therapy she needed to get back to full strength. From simple movements like bouncing a tennis ball to the more mechanical things like serving and running, Bartlett — once restricted to feeling in only her left side — felt strong enough to play in a matter of months.

“If you have some adversities — we all do — it gives us a goal to strive for,” said Sosebee, who powered through knee surgery 19 years ago. “That’s what life is all about.”

Bartlett realized her greater purpose: building a strong foundation for tennis in the community and even within the educational system. As the NEGTA president, Bartlett was instrumental in forming “Tennis in P.E.,” a program that inserts tennis within the curriculum for 15 Hall County and Gainesville City schools. Bartlett said USTA Georgia assisted her in purchasing equipment for the program.

Last year, the NEGTA was awarded a grant through USTA Southern to promote tennis in the Hispanic community. Bartlett said the NEGTA has worked with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, as well as holding apprentice classes for members — young and old — with an interest in learning the fundamentals of tennis. 

Additionally, the NEGTA received the Community Tennis Association nod in 2018.

“It turned into a mission of (Bartlett’s) to increase participation of tennis in the community,” said Andre Ferreira, Brenau University tennis coach and board member for the NEGTA. “(Marie) is very involved.”

For members of the local country clubs without tennis instructors, Brenau currently gives NEGTA players the chance to participate in weekly clinics on campus as well.

With additional opportunities for the sport now in place, Pyne, Bartlett and Sosebee can speak for all senior players when they say there is nothing slowing them down.

“That was my original goal, play tennis until I was 80. And here I am, almost 88,” Pyne said with a laugh. “Now I’ll have to shoot for 90, won’t I?”

For more information on the NEGTA or how to sign up for leagues, visit www.ustanegta.com.

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