Rita Price is brimming with joy. Wish of a Lifetime, an organization that grants wishes to seniors, is flying her to see Tony Bennett at a Reno, Nev., casino in August.
She could have seen Bennett in Aspen, Colo., on Friday were it not for a commitment she’d made to friend and doubles partner Doris Lutz.
“I wouldn’t do it because I have a partner that depends on me,” Price says.
Instead, Price, from Lakewood, Colo., is here at the Midtown Athletic Club in Overland Park, one of 50 senior-aged women taking part in the 34th Annual United States Tennis Association’s National Women’s 65, 75 and 85 Indoor Championships.
Price hustles over to Brenda Carter, softly clasps her shoulder and asks her a question.
“Do you know that I got a wish of a lifetime granted?”
Price’s 88th birthday was Sunday, she tells Carter. Carter tells Price that today is her 68th birthday.
“Happy birthday,” they laugh in unison.
The sport is what brings them together, but these women have much more in common than tennis.
Some of the women cluster on a dark green leather sectional in the middle of the lounge, between all of the indoor courts.
Their tennis bags line the back of the couch, rackets sticking out.
Their eyes glance toward a flat-screen television on the wall before them. Together, they watch the opening rounds of Wimbledon amidst vibrant conversation.
Just behind the couch stands Price. A group of women crowds around her. Price holds a stack of pictures.
“These are pictures I take,” Price says. “I write articles and take pictures because I’m very old and I don’t remember people, but if you take a lot of pictures of them, then you remember who they are.
“That’s what makes my life a joy. It’s the people that you meet all over the world. And this, it’s like coming to a family reunion.”
Price has pictures from all over the country.
There are four Category 1 national tournaments for every age group in the U.S., broken down by age in five-year increments. The USTA offers a Category 1 Championship, which is the highest level these women can play. There are four of those tourneys in each age group each year — one each on clay, indoor courts, grass and outdoor hardcourts.
“Tennis is not my life,” says Carter, who is from Charleston, S.C. “It’s not the most important thing in my life, but tennis is fun. It’s something we can play forever. It’s a sport of a lifetime.”
Tennis also allows Price and her fellow competitors to continue pursuing other passions from their youth. When Price is not playing, she’s the emcee for the Sunshine Serenaders, a senior entertainment program back home. They sing Tony Bennett songs to people with Alzheimer’s disease.
Price’s friend Roz King is stretching for her upcoming match. King, from San Diego, is a dancer.
Carter is retired now, but she worked for years at Georgia Southern as a professor of mathematics and athletic administrator. Carter has played tennis since she was a child. Last year, she was ranked No. 4 in the world in her age group.
“It’s like a party every time you come to a tournament,” Price says. “It’s a big party. That’s what I love. And I love the people. But my big joy in this world is singing and dancing.”
She shrugs, “Yeah, I’m in show business.”
But that’s not to say they aren’t really good at tennis, too. Price didn’t start playing tennis regularly until 1988, at age 62. Now, she plays in around seven USTA events per year. In doubles, Price and Lutz are ranked No. 1 in the world among the 85s.
As a singles player, Price is ranked No. 2. She was inducted into the Colorado Tennis Hall of Fame in 2013. Price will tell you she’s not a good player, though — she just knows how to move her feet from all the dancing she’s done.
In 2007, Carter was on the national team for her age group. She competed in a group competition in Christchurch, New Zealand, which was organized by the International Tennis Federation.
“The United States sends teams in each one of the age groups,” Carter says. “That year, I won the ITF World Singles Championship in Christchurch. So that’s probably the most prestigious win I’ve had.
“But the most prestigious thing about all of this is the people and the friends that I’ve made. It’s just a wonderful way to meet people, to have a great time, to stay healthy. It’s kind of life-changing experience. An earthy, life-changing experience.”
The tournament alters the spirits of Dave Gary, too. Gary, 48, is the tournament coordinator at Midtown.
Usually, tournaments at Midtown are a weekend event. This tournament spans the entire week, including wine and cheese parties, lunches and player banquets on Tuesday and Wednesday nights.
“I think it’s really inspirational, watching Rita go out and play a tennis match,” Gary says. “She just turned 88 yesterday. I have trouble straightening up in the morning after five hours on the court. Watching them run around is, I think, very inspirational.”
Linda Friedlander arrives at the club and walks over to Price’s table. Price has pictures of Friedlander sunning herself in Houston.
“Oh, this is me in my onesie,” she says.
“She’s sweet, this lady,” Price says to whoever will listen. “She looks like she’s straight out of Vogue. This lady is classic.”
“Yeah, classic,” Friedlander says, rolling her eyes and smiling. “I’m so classic I have an easy-peasy match with a No. 1 seed today.”
“Oh, jeez,” Price shakes her head. “Dori.”
Minutes later, Carter sits on a bar stool with her feet resting on the railing, overlooking the matches below. Friedlander, who hails from New York, scores a point against the vigorous No. 1 seed in age 75 singles, Dori Devries.
“Nice shot, Linda,” Carter yells.
Friedlander grins up at Carter.
“We’ve been around the block, you know,” Carter says. “I think everybody here would be very happy to tell you they’re just fortunate to just be able to play.”
Price has to go practice with Lutz in about 15 minutes. But before she goes, she launches into a Tony Bennett song.
“When you’re smiling,” she snaps and sings. “When you’re smiling, the whole world smiles with you.
“When you’re laughing, …”
It’s a fitting lyric, given the amount of grins surrounding Price as she sings. Tennis is not just tennis, no matter one’s age. And for these women, tennis gives them just one more reason to smile.
To reach Megan Armstrong, send email to email@example.com.