By J. Fred Sidhu
Indian Wells, Calif. – There are many Southern traditions such as the warm hospitality, grits and shrimp and delicious barbeque.
You could also add the Rusty Racquets to the list of Southern traditions.
Back in 1991, when the USTA began its first year of senior league tennis competition and national championships for players 50 and older, Sylvia Deloach of West Columbia, S.C. formed a team which consisted of seven women who loved to play tennis.
While players have come and gone since 1991, the team, known as the Rusty Racquets, has existed each year in what has become a well-established tennis tradition in South Carolina.
The original team designed its shirts which included a large rusty racquet and tennis balls. In 1993, one of the team member’s husbands designed a new logo with a rusty racquet leaning up against a rocking chair and a steaming cup of coffee.
"We just have a good time. The camaraderie between the women has just been great. Lifetime friendships have been formed," said team captain Maggie MacDougall. "We’ve had well over a 100 (players) to play as a Rusty Racquet. It was just a neat group of women that formed this."
MacDougall, who has been a member of the Rusty Racquets since 1993, credits the team’s long-running existence to Deloach, the team’s founder who is still a member.
"Most teams form and then they just split, but this group has stayed together,"
MacDougall said. "We’ve had a good leader with Sylvia, she’s been an excellent leader and she has a calmness about her and she’s fair,"
The Rusty Racquets, who play at the Lexington County Tennis Complex in Lexington, S.C., reached the USTA Southern Sectionals in 2006 in Charleston, S.C. and in 2008 in Mobile, Ala., but fell short of reaching Nationals.
However, 2010 turned out to be a breakthrough year for the Rusty Racquets as the they finished 9-0 to win their league and then battled through the tough South Carolina District Championship to earn a berth in the USTA Southern Sectionals.
In the Southern Sectional final, the Rusty Racquets edged Memphis, Tenn. 2-1 to advance to the first USTA National Championship in team history.
The trip to the 2010 USTA League 3.0 Senior National Championships at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden adds another chapter to the history of the Rusty Racquets.
"We’ve just had fun. To win Sectionals and to come here was just unbelievable," MacDougall said. "We raised money through sponsorships and we had a big garage sale to get here and help defray expenses."
Unfortunately for the Rusty Racquets, team founder Deloach could not accompany the team to Indian Wells as she stayed in South Carolina to care for her husband who has cancer.
"For this team name and this logo to be around for 19 years at this point is a wonderful idea," said MacDougall. "We have had more compliments at tournaments and everyone knows who we are."
The Rusty Racquets will celebrate their 20th anniversary in 2011. "I’m planning a 20th reunion. Everyone who has ever played as a Rusty Racquet is going to be invited back."