CROSSLAKE -- On a muggy Thursday afternoon with barely a hint of a breeze, they gathered -- rackets in hand -- eager to play.
Three tennis courts filled with doubles players and two more waited for an opportunity to play into the rotation. There were a few braces here and there -- for a knee or an elbow.
After all, many of the players are in their 70s.
"It just feels good to play tennis," said 73-year-old Marvin Gieseke as he waited to get on the court. Gieseke started playing in his 40s when he took lessons with his children. "It keeps you young -- it really does."
Gieseke said can see the difference when getting together with friends his age who seem so old, who don't move around well and who find themselves easily out of breath. In contrast, his fellow senior league players, in their 70s and nearing their 80s or already in them, were out there hitting balls across the court.
"If you keep your eye on the ball, you've got the game half way licked," Gieseke said.
Admittedly, the serves were not going to rival American tennis ace Andy Roddick's. But then he turns 23 Tuesday and is playing in the U.S. Open, which starts Monday in New York. In Crosslake, the game was more friendly than serious competition. The majority of players in the senior league are in their 60s.
When there was momentary confusion in a near court on who was serving, Gieseke said: "Senior moment. We have a lot of those."
But most often the players mentioned the enjoyment they gained from playing with the group where partners and opponents change with each match.
"Nobody has more fun than this group," said Dick Erickson, Breezy Point.
"Are we sweating? Are we having fun? Are we staying in shape? And that's just three of the reasons (to play)." said 81-year-old Ted Shuler, Crosslake.
"You can play this into your hundreds," he said and laughed, "if they hit it to you."
Shuler's opponents said he may not run all over the court, but he can place the shots where he wants to. While on the court, Shuler looked across the net to Ginger Slind.
"Honey, you better stand back I'm going right there," he told her.
In Crosslake, Shuler is part of a trend where senior tennis is growing. In 2001, a Crosslake recreation program for seniors interested in organized recreational tennis drew 18 people. They played Thursday nights from 4-7 p.m. This year, the program increased to two nights a week with 37 registered players and more counting guests or walk-ons. A ladies group plays Tuesday mornings.
Jon Henke, Crosslake parks and recreation director, estimates 150 to 200 players are on the tennis courts each week. A youth summer tennis lesson program enrolls 20 to 30 children. There are additional adult programs, lessons and mixers. Henke said if tennis is lacking participants in other communities, that is not the case in Crosslake where it's one of the most utilized recreational amenities in the park.
Players drive from Crosslake, as well as Outing, Hackensack, Merrifield and Pine River to take part. Several started playing when they were in their 30s and 40s. Some had teen-age children on high school tennis teams as an incentive.
Paula Buresh, 72, Fifty Lakes, took tennis lessons through a park program and found other benefits.
"I met a lot of great people and I really enjoy it."
Slind said: "You've got to keep moving right? It's a really good group and everyone's out to have a good time. It's just fun."
RENEE RICHARDSON can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5852.
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