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Lost a partner, so what did he do? Took 2nd

Losing his regular doubles partner to a second knee operation didn't cause Christopher Gifford to change his tennis plans.

Gifford, 82, packed up himself and his grandson, Tyler VanLeuven, and drove to Baton Rouge, La., for the U.S. National Senior Sports Classic.

There, Gifford placed second in doubles among about a dozen teams in the 80-84 age division.

"I was disappointed I had to go into a pool of players to get a partner, but my regular partner, Elmer Pearson, couldn't play as planned," explained Gifford. "I was teamed with a player from Baltimore, and in the final we played a team from Atlanta that had been together the last five years. We didn't have a chance."

Gifford, a retired Army officer, has played tennis since his first $5 lesson at the Lawnwood Cricket Club in Chestnut Hill, Mass., when he was 10 years old.

"My father was a tennis nut," said Gifford, "and although I played hockey, baseball and some football in prep school, I was on the tennis team at Duke University."

Gifford has played on red clay, Har tru, grass and hard court surfaces, partly due to his military travel obligations and subsequent opportunities.

"I've never seen anyone the shape he's in," said Tom Walbolt, tennis director at Clearwater's McMullen Tennis Complex. "He's been a fixture here ever since the facility opened in 1974. He would be the perfect poster person to promote tennis as a lifetime sport."

Upon Gifford's military retirement 22 years ago, he and his wife Mary, who celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary this month, moved to Clearwater. Tennis matches three to four times a week became a regular activity for Gifford, whether at McMullen, Royal Racquet Club, Presti Tennis Center or Clearwater's Bayfront courts in the downtown section.

"I love to play tennis," said Gifford. "Win or lose, playing makes me feel good."

Sports Classic medalists: Other Pinellas medalists among the 1,700 tennis competitors in the Senior Sports Classic were Opal Bowin in women's doubles and Donald Moffat in men's singles. William Ward reached the quarterfinals in the ages 70-74 singles competition, competing among 70 players.

Stearns in Europe: B.J. Stearns, 17, of Seminole competed in tournaments last month in Italy, France and Germany. He was selected to the U.S. National Tennis Team last year and thus is given the opportunity to participate in international events.

His next competition is in July in the U.S. Tennis Association Boys 18 National Championships.

Kent junior winners: Robb Guido of Palm Harbor won his first Super B championship last weekend in the Kent Junior Singles Tournament. Guido defeated Jonathon Tharin of Palm Harbor 8-6 in a pro set. Julian Hoffman won the consolation.

Sammy Bengen of Tarpon Springs won the B Division; Christine Gladysz of Palm Harbor won her second straight novice title.

Free clinic: On Saturday, July 17, the Kent Jewish Community Center in Clearwater plays host to a free Pro Kennex Tennis Carnival from 10 a.m.-noon. John Kelly, technical adviser for Pro Kennex, will direct stroke and hitting drills, time players' serves, and offer hitting for prizes. The clinic is free for the first 50 players who register by calling 736-2494.