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Wheelchair tennis' top athletes come to town

Professional wheelchair tennis is coming to St. Petersburg Friday and the public is invited.

Through a collaboration with Admiral Farragut Academy and the Baseline Wheelchair Tennis Foundation, an exhibition is noon-1:30 p.m. on the school's courts at 501 Park St. N. The event, sponsored by Becker Ventures LLC, based in Troy, Mich., is free.

Admiral Farragut Academy graduate Bob Waldman, a 20-year plus tennis official and founder of the Baseline Wheelchair Tennis Foundation, became enamored with wheelchair tennis a couple of years ago after watching matches during the U.S. Open.

"When I had an opportunity to watch these athletes, I was amazed," said Waldman, former president of the Eastern Tennis Officials Association in the New York area. "They are great athletes with even greater sportsmanship. After watching them 10 minutes or less, their wheelchairs disappeared and all I saw were athletes."

That's just the message Waldman hopes to send in the exhibition, which features the nation's No. 1 and No. 2 women's players, Beth Arnoult-Ritthaler from Hawaii and Karin Korb of Georgia, respectively, and former No. 24 John Johnston of Gainesville and former No. 5 Paul Walker of Lakeland. Walker is the head coach of the women's U.S. national team.

Jay Snyder, U.S. Open tournament director from 1993-2002 and umpire since 1967, is scheduled to sit in the umpire's chair. Dave Kozlowski, host of Inside Tennis with the Koz on The Tennis Channel, will act as emcee and tape the event to be aired at a later date.

Admiral Farragut Academy's Lt. Commander JoAnn Linkner views Friday's activity as an excellent example of how the school encourages its graduates to remain involved and to reach out to the community.

"Being part of the academy doesn't end with graduation," said Linkner, who has been at the school seven years. "Bob is a great example to cadets with the development of this professional tennis arena and then creating this wonderful program."

When Waldman decided to become an advocate for wheelchair tennis, he realized a foundation needed to be formed to add legitimacy to his efforts. Next, he said, was the need for a Web site. The Baseline Wheelchair Tennis Foundation became official in November 2005 and www.baselinewheelchairtennis.org is up and running.

"Now when we contact people for support, we have places to direct them," Waldman said. "It's been difficult for professional wheelchair players to get sponsors and their prize money is very low. These players may not be able to stand up but they do stand out."

ACS RESULTS: More than 170 players participated in the 23rd annual American Cancer Society Tennis Classic at Clearwater's McMullen Tennis Complex.

Winners in women's doubles included Kim Cashman and Gail Gibson (4.5), Kim Damico and Mary Snowden-Gordon (4.0), Jill Faw and Charlotte Tao (3.5) and Mary Dworkin and Joanna Pruitt (3.0). Posting wins among the men were Michael Erbe and Marvin Wilhite (4.5), Dave King and Scott Monette (4.0) and Ed Earls and Josh Moore (3.5). Mixed winners were Kim Cashman and Kevin Hayslett (5.0), Janet Poort and Ken Cherven (4.5), Kim Cherry and Todd Whitington (4.0), Therese Gardner and Ed Ostiguy (3.5) and Debbie and Jerry Walker (3.0).

LEAGUE NEWS: Shipwatch Tennis Club handed McMullen its first loss in the senior women's 4.0 division last weekend. Lynne Norring and Mickie Gelestor posted a 7-5, 6-2 win in No. 3 and Gail Pierce and Pat Colacchio collected a 2-6, 7-5, 6-3 win in No. 2.

+ The Renaissance Vinoy is 5-0 in the senior men's 4.0 North division after its 3-0 win over East Lake Woodlands. Recording three-set victories were Nga Duong and Don Mathias in No. 1 and Scott Stewart and David Dickerson in No. 2. Terry Reeb and Scott Johnston earned a 7-6, 7-6 win in No. 3.

SEE THE PROS: The Sheriff Jim Coats Clearwater Women's Open, a $25,000 USTA Pro Circuit event for female professionals, is this week through March 5 at the McMullen Tennis Complex in Clearwater. Community activities are planned, including Family Tennis Day 1-4 p.m. Saturday with an opportunity to win tickets to the Bausch and Lomb Tournament.

For sponsor information, call 546-1032, ext. 17; for tennis questions, call 669-1919.

COMING UP: The St. Petersburg Tennis Center hosts its West Coast Super Senior Grand Prix designated event for men through Sunday and its Adult Championships Saturday-Monday for men and women. Call 823-2225.

News for this column may be faxed to Nancy Morgan, 796-5559; e-mailed to namorgan46msn.com, or sent to 710 Court St., Clearwater, FL 33756. Please include phone number.

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