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San Clemente Journal

Forever Young: Senior Tennis in San Clemente

Feb 01, 2008 09:00PM ● Published by Don Kindred

story & photo by Job Ang


Back row. (lt to rt) are: Harold Sturrock, Ross Magana, Bernd Ziesche, Les Holstein, Matt Whitehead, Pat Gillian, Ed Hubler, Hiram Harvey, Clayton Anderson, Pierce Flynn, Larry Melvin, Bob Harner, Mike Vakili, Gitu Bhatt, John Gaffney, and Tom Tily. Seated: Bill Thomas, Pete Peterson, John Lilly, Jack Corkery, Bob Larsen, and Allen Posner. Remember, these are the handsomest men in town, and the oldest ones are seated.
When the first ball was struck on this overcast morning, I heard something quite surprising - trash talking. Note, this wasn’t the average adolescent get-together, where cheerfully competitive remarks are barked across the net - this was the battleground where older gentlemen waged war three mornings a week: Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. 

The said “battlegrounds” were several of the Rancho San Clemente Tennis and Fitness Club’s many tennis courts. And these “gladiators” weren’t afraid to let people know just exactly how they felt. Jeers and good-natured jokes were flung across the net as often as the tennis balls were hit. 

“Luck is everything,” remarked veteran Matt Whitehead. 

The pervading theme on this quiet day was a love for tennis. Of course, the trash-talk was in good fun, which is the point of it all. These men come from nearly every walk of life - from World War II veterans to prestigious doctors - to those who just want to have some fun and play tennis. 

John Lilly, who merely wanted to organize a tennis group, started the gatherings. “Most importantly, it was about the friends,” said Lilly. 

And, just as in any other aspect of life, the people involved are varied. Jack Corkery, for example, one of the original founders along with Lilly, was a former college administrator. John Gaffney, once a successful aerospace executive, currently coordinates the doubles matches. Pierce Flynn was a physician before retiring; Jack Kiely was a computer administrator. And there are the characters too. 

Les Holstein is a renowned punster around the club. “I’m a 6.0 tennis player,” he laughed. “I’ve never lost a point ever.” (6.0 is near pro-level status as a tennis player) He also appears to relish the big screen. “I was in the movie Gone With the Wind. Did you see me?” he asked, smiling widely. 

Ross Magana, the “baby” of the group at a raw 58 years of age, acts out his nickname; he is constantly jumping around, piping up. “Oh yeah,” when asked if he won. “I totally won.”
The group numbers men born in Germany, India and the Middle East, all gathered under the same nationality, the same banner of tennis for a few hours. They are transformed back into being like kids, playing with the enthusiasm of people many years their junior. After a courteous, “Good luck, gentlemen,” or some other form of goodwill, these men let fly. The points are short, but intense; the rallies filled with excited motions and earnest grunts. The balls are taken on the rise and met with grand swipes of the rackets. At times, there is triumph, other times, frustration or outright dismay. With primal cries of victory or dismayed howls, these men duke it out with the same gusto as the Trojans (or Spartans) of old, as they close in on their enemies. But when all these venerable soldiers put down their swords, (er… I mean, tennis rackets), they really are just a bunch a guys looking to hang out and have fun. 
“I love it,” says Pierce Flynn, one of the longer-tenured group members “My closest friends are here at the club. What makes us get along is our mutual love of tennis.” 
The group’s age range is pretty wide, from 58 to 94; the tennis experience even wider. Some have been playing all of their lives (50+ years), others for just a short time (15 years or so), and yet all these men get along beautifully. 

I’ve heard it said that tennis is a unifying game; it knows no age. That impression was left in my mind after watching these men play THEIR sport. No matter the age or background, these gentlemen were all unified by their favorite game. b
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