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Woodley's support for center goes well beyond court

If Gayle Woodley had another minute in her day, she likely would fill it with yet another way to proclaim the value of the St. Petersburg Tennis Center.

Moving from Orlando to St. Petersburg in 1988, Woodley started playing at the center in 1990.

"My dad played tennis, so there was always a tennis racket at the house, but I did other things," Woodley said. "I grew up in North Dakota, so we only had the summer to play.

"It was when I came to St. Petersburg that I started playing tennis again regularly," Woodley said. "The Satellite League was the first league I played in and was even a co-captain. I subbed a little for PADL and played USTA leagues. I even played some in the K-Swiss league."

Woodley now limits league play to PADL on Thursdays and casual play on Tuesdays and Saturdays.

Almost as soon as Woodley began playing league tennis, she and partner Heather Nicoll took lessons from the center's teaching professional, Rich Terrell. Woodley began volunteering in Terrell's program for children.

Her volunteering continued with the introduction of First Serve Initiative, an effort introduced a couple of years ago and led by the U.S. Tennis Association which strives to provide inner-city youths an after-school program with access to adult volunteer mentors, tutors, computers and tennis.

"I also helped some with parties at the center, along with the playing, and seemed to always be there," Woodley said. "I became even more involved when there was the possibility that the center might not be there."

In 2001, the city let the new Tennis Foundation of St. Petersburg assume management of the center. Woodley joined others in the effort to preserve the history and tradition at the center.

"The first time I watched an exhibition match on the stadium court, I felt the history," Woodley said. "It was like the spirits of those from the past were in the air and it was filled with tradition.

"The center is a really nice place to be. It's safe and good for adults as well as the younger ones. The center has always represented a place where anyone can just come."

Last weekend, a crowd of players, families and supporters came to the center for a homecoming party that included a tennis exhibition, play for youths and adults and the presentation of the annual Lewallen Award to the individual that best represents support and enthusiasm for the center.

Woodley, who received the award in 1995, said she was thrilled that the center's teaching professional, Rick Crockett was selected. Gloria Lewallen and her daughter, Laura Peters, presented the award.

"That's the first time a staff member has been chosen for the Lewallen Award and it was so deserved," Woodley said. "Rick has such a feel for the kids and has created a defining line so that everyone involved knows the requirements and the commitments needed for the First Serve program.

"Playing tennis keeps the oldsters young and provides an avenue to see the future of tennis," Woodley said. "I love the networking that happens from tennis."

Woodley prides herself in taking pictures to promote the center. Thanks to husband Jerry Benjamin, Woodley said, she picked the perfect digital camera to allow her to capture many of the moments at the center.

MARK THE DATES: St. Petersburg's Bed and Breakfast Tour, 4-8 p.m. Dec. 7 will benefit the Tennis Foundation's First Serve Initiative.

+ Four-time Grand Slam champion Jim Courier, who has pledged his support for the center and its activities, is organizing the Suncoast Tennis Shootout March 23 at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa to benefit the center.

Professionals James Blake and Jennifer Capriati have committed to play in the exhibition.

FALL LEAGUE: The St. Petersburg Tennis Center's women's 4.0 adult team won the season title. The team relied on Lynn Pratt, Tess Ross and Fran Gentile in singles and doubles teams Heather Nicoll and Lyn Ballinger, Ross and Diana Gabay, Penny Robbins and Gentile, Sheri Ebelke and Robyn Bowman and Ann Worthington and team captain Turtle Marshall.

The squad was unbeaten in nine matches among five teams.

NET SHOTS: Four area players won titles in last weekend's St. Petersburg Country Club Rookie Tournament. Dalila Chiadim won the girls 18-and-under, Allison Haberer the 10, Harrison Cavanaugh the boys 12 and Robert Perry the boys 10. Consolation winners included Jessica Schroeder in the 10, Palmer Jackson the 14 and Justin Vanlede-Zinn the boys 10. Alyssa Bellini reached the girls 14 final.

+ Entered in this month's Chanda Rubin ITF Junior Tennis Classic in Columbia, S.C., are Alexis Dorr, Maiko Enomoto, Yumi Hasegawa, Christina Liles and Sarah Svoboda.

COMING UP: The Tennis Classic, a benefit for the Good Samaritan Health Clinic of Pasco, Inc., begins Saturday at the Paul Kronk Tennis Center in Crescent Oaks Country Club. Call (727) 934-6920 for playing times. The Junior Clay Court Challenge for singles players begins Friday at Hunter's Green Country Club in Tampa. Call Bill Macom, (813) 973-4220, today. The Tampa Bay Doubles Challenge is this weekend at the Phil Green Tennis Academy in Safety Harbor. Scheduled are age-division men's and women's doubles competition in 35-and-older, 45, 55, 65 and 75 divisions and mixed doubles in 35, 45 and 55. Call Green, 724-7729.