Packet Sea Foam: Women prove, in winning, age is no obstacle

March 21, 2011 

Thanks to a group of Hilton Head Island women for showing that life begins at 70.

They won state and regional tennis championships for 3.0 players age 70 and up.

That's despite two of them dealing with new widowhood. And there were other challenges, including cold weather, bad knees, at least one brand new hip, heating pads, ice packs, and not a whole lot of practice.

Three of the nine members are in their 80s. The oldest was 86.

Together, they won the USTA Southern Sectional Championship. That's as far as the team from the Sea Pines Country Club could go because there were no more competitors in their age group, said team captain Mary Dempsey.

"It was a ragtag group," she said.

"I had to call and beg all these women, but we scraped together nine players, and to win the state tournament, we thought that was a hoot. We did it to have fun."

The local champions, besides Mary, were Marge Atkinson, Jane Beattie, Jill Graybeal, Jan Jenkins, Marie Leroy, Barbara Pollard, Nancy Ward and Antoinette Zervoulis.

All the team members are grandmothers and one is a great-grandmother.

At the state championships on the Isle of Palms in November, it was cold and crowded "with no place to warm up our old bodies," Mary said.

They met before light to practice in a parking lot, and went undefeated through five matches in three days. Then they won the nine-state regional championships played on Hilton Head in December.

"It was really cool what they did," said their coach, Matt Wuller, director of tennis at Sea Pines Country Club. "At the same time, it says what this island is about. Everybody plays as long as possible."

Mary, the team captain, said, "We were very supportive of each other. Nobody had more fun than we did. The name of our team would be 'Hit and Giggle.'"

Their mantra seemed to be: "No worries. No worries."

Mary said, "We'd say the worst thing that can happen to us is that we lose, and that's really not very important in the grand scheme of things."

The team captain is new to the 70s. She was competing in triathlons at 50. But this tennis team, which had never played a competitive match before, taught her a lot.

"I learned that having fun in life never has to stop, and to appreciate your friendships," Mary said. "The point is, it's not over at 70.

"It can be just the beginning."

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