Philadelphia Liberty Gay Tennis Association

Executive Director of PhillyGayCalendar

I love tennis. It has long been the only sport I can endure to watch on television. Growing up, quite out of character, I welcomed NBC’s mid-summer preemption of "Days of our Lives" in lieu of Wimbledon – an exchange of one sweaty drama for another. In 1993, I was 16, Pete Sampras and Steffi Graf won Wimbledon, and I was going to marry Steffi while having an affair with Pete.

Tennis is a challenging sport, requiring an athletic rigor that few can maintain. I raise my goggles to my tennis amigos. Some serious love of this 150-year old sport has grown the Philadelphia Liberty Tennis Association (PLTA) to almost 100 players and 5,000 games since it was founded in January 2008.

According to John Edwards (not the scandalized Democratic ex-senator and two-time presidential primary candidate), the vice-president of the league, PLTA has an exciting second year ahead of it. More clinics and player development activities are planned. The first PLTA championships will be held in September, with hopes to send a team to Boston in August to compete in the Atlantic Cup, an LGBT tournament. Not least of all, more social events can be expected for league members and anyone interested in joining.

John joined the league last July after volleying balls in the windy city for four years. He was hoping for a similar "group of LGBT individuals that did not revolve around the bars", so the proliferating PLTA was perfect. Though John initially had difficulty finding a gay tennis league in Philly, PLTA’s focus on branding itself to interested players is evolving. John was pleasantly surprised at the advanced level of organization for such a new group. Benefits: expanded circle of friends and a smoother acclimation to a new city. Pitfall: controlling his language when he makes a mistake on the court.

John’s service as vice-president is born from a sense of responsibility to a group that welcomed him when he joined and has grown to mean a lot to him. He participates in monthly board meetings for both PLTA and Team Philadelphia, and ne’er a day goes by without a league-related email. "It is a great honor for me to be part of PLTA and to be able to share any gifts or talents I may possess with the organization."

Patrick Ellis, an army brat with a refreshing Southern charm agreeable to most Yankees, was turned onto tennis at the age of ten. Professional players offered lessons to him and other kids in his Kentucky neighborhood. His interest was fueled by the confidence that tennis was a sport he could play. Patrick continued to play recreationally through high school and college, eventually teaching his partner Mark.

Aware of a gay tennis club that disbanded several years ago, Patrick yearned for a forum to compete with his peers. In an act of serendipity, he ran into the founders of PLTA at FDR Park in South Philadelphia just as they were forming the new club.

Since joining the league, Patrick’s "+" column is full. He plays more often: every weekend in the summer and twice a month in the winter at the Northeast Racquet Club. He thrives from the competition while keeping it at a healthy level, open to constructive criticism and guidance on skills and mechanics from his peers. "What is gravy is making friends and getting to know people."

Mark Stehr belongs to the Fins Aquatics Club and PLTA, a member since its inception. I could go on about the Fins, but this story’s about gay tennis. Mark began lessons at 15 and played on his high school team, which won the state championship (though not while he was on the team). He played 2nd singles and doubles on a road team as well as in graduate school in California. While living in Japan for two years, he played in several tournaments.

Balancing two sports, Mark finds contrast. Swimming is a lot of practice. He shows up, swims, and then he’s done. Tennis is all matches. The constant competition requires more effort. Mark manages the competitive stress with more grace than in his racquet-breaking days. He focuses on honing skills: "The better you get, the more fun you have. It’s not just about beating others, but improving."

For Mark, the biggest thrill is making a really hard shot that he should not have. "Anyone can miss a shot. It’s how you recover from those" that distinguishes players. "Many tennis players can hit like pros, but doing it consistently is what defines the pros. They do it when they need to."

Swimming wins in the social category. Tennis allows for less co-mingling: matches involve fewer people and begin and end at different times. Swimmers spend most of their time together almost naked. All the easier to flirt and frolic.

Read Related Posts...