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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Spokane

Tennis keeps buddies fit, connected

UPDATED: Thu., May 6, 2021

Bill Prouty, 88, Don Oakley, 91, Tom Connolly, 81, Mark Hammer, 81, and Mike Jackson, 81, gather three times a week to play tennis at the Spokane Racquet Club. The group has been playing together nearly four years.  (Dan Pelle/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Bill Prouty, 88, Don Oakley, 91, Tom Connolly, 81, Mark Hammer, 81, and Mike Jackson, 81, gather three times a week to play tennis at the Spokane Racquet Club. The group has been playing together nearly four years. (Dan Pelle/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
By Cindy Hval For The Spokesman-Review

Age hasn’t diminished their banter or their backhands.

Three times a week Don Oakley, 91, Bill Prouty, 88, Tom Connolly, 81. Mark Hammer, 81, and Mike Jackson, 81, play tennis at Spokane Racquet Club .

They’ve been playing together less than four years, but their weekly matches cemented their friendship, especially during COVID.

“It was a real life-saver,” said Oakley. “It broke up the monotony.”

He’s been playing tennis for 66 years.

“It keeps me in good condition and makes me feel well,” he said. “It’s more important than ever to get exercise.”

Incorporated in 1950, Spokane Racquet Club is a member-owned club and boasts 10 courts including indoor, outdoor and Spokane’s only clay courts.

“We had to play outside for a time due to COVID,” Connolly said.

Due to state restrictions, the club was closed in December and January. The facility re-opened just in time for its 60-year-old HVAC system to fail.

“It got pretty cold,” Jackson said.

The group agreed Jackson is their best player. He traded golf for tennis 40 years ago.

“I got quite competitive,” he said.

Manager Kay Menzizies said the club took the opportunity to upgrade the facility’s heating and cooling system.

“Our new system features circulated air with air scrubbers and cleaners,” she said.

The men all live at Rockwood South Hill and carpool to their weekly tennis games. They play doubles for 90 minutes three times a week, with the fifth man rotating in and out.

“It gives us time to recuperate,” Hammer said.

He took up tennis in college and said good sportsmanship reigns at the club.

“If someone throws a racquet, we all throw one and laugh,” he said. “My mood goes south if I’m not able to play tennis.”

That’s not to say they aren’t competitive. Prouty has been playing more than 40 years and when asked what he most enjoys about the game, he was succinct.

“Winning,” he said.

In 1977, his employer suggested he join Spokane Racquet Club. Now, each week he organizes the games and carpool schedule.

Connolly started playing tennis in high school at Gonzaga Prep.

“I take out my aggression on the ball,” he said. “Always have.”

He said the group is cohesive and dependable.

“We don’t get into politics,” he said.

When one of the regulars isn’t able to make it, Drazen Gardilcic steps in. He’s new to the area and joined the club five months ago.

“Camaraderie is the word that comes to mind,” he said. “I immediately felt welcomed.”

The men joke about the effects of age on their game.

“We could use a scorekeeper to keep things straight,” Oakley said.

Jackson chuckled.

“A lot of our calls are based on poor eyesight,” he said.

When asked if their game has slowed down or if they play with same intensity they had in years past, Prouty grinned.

“We play with slow intensity,” he said.

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