A team of eight Southwest Florida men in the 65 & Over division recently returned from the USTA (United States Tennis Association) National Championships in Surprise, Ariz. (just outside of Phoenix) after a triumphant and well-determined battle of the courts, landing them a well-deserved first-place victory, overturning the other teams 17-1.
Prior to their national victory, the local team took first place in the USTA Statewide Championships later last year, battling against hundreds of teams, winning 14-1.
"In order to be eligible for the Nationals, you have to play the best of the best and no one in Southwest Florida has ever won the national championships we are so very excited about this victory," said Ed Marcelo, team captain for the outstanding champs. "Once you make it to Nationals, you're representing thousands of teams. We had a well-balanced team and could handle whatever they threw at us. Others would try to put their best players in, but they couldn't beat our players. It's like a chess match out there; you have to play as smart as you play well."
For the first time in history, a Southwest Florida team was awarded first place during the USTA National Championships, 65 & Over division. Above, award-winning team captain Ed Marcelo (center), along with Steve Romaine (left) and Richard Fell, represent their team of eight during a recent interview with the national champions. “It was an amazing feat, and we had a well-balanced team. They couldn’t stop us,” Marcelo said. Photo by MELISSA SCHNEIDER
Along with team captain Marcelo, team members of the USTA National Champions include Steve Romaine, Richard Fell, Nile Evans, Larry Blohm, Masahiro Kumamoto, Robert Bachula and Timothy McClary, along with their coach, T.A. Niles, all calling Cape Coral, Fort Myers Beach and North Fort Myers home. Members also said teammate Thomas Martin couldn't make the competition.
The local team practices at the Park Meadow Tennis Center, South Fort Myers, keeping their skills on the court honed by going up against the 55-and-up players. In Arizona, they had to make a quick adjustment to the harder courts in the championships, but as for the heat, they were used to it, and felt even more exuberant with the lower humidity out west.
"Some teams might have had problems adjusting to the hot weather out there, primarily ones coming from the north to compete, but we were used to it, and it really didn't bother us much at all," Fell said.
After working and fighting their way through the ranks, coach Niles, Marcelo and the team made it to the semi-finals and then the finals, clenching the first-place victory for Southwest Florida, all within a weekend's timeframe.
"We looked over after realizing we won, and saw [teammate] Niles leaning against the fence," Romaine said. "We thought maybe he was injured. He turned around and had tears flowing down his face. It truly was an emotional victory for all of us."
During the awards ceremony, each of the local teammates were honored with first-place medals, along with a celebratory banner of their victory.
Several hours later, the team was catching a red-eye back home to Southwest Florida, and had to camp out in the airport for some time, but they didn't care.
"We were on an adrenaline rush, and had those heavy gold medals in our hands," Romaine laughed. "We couldn't be happier and it was a very well-organized event. It's been a long road, but it's what we enjoy doing. Now we'll take a break and start over from the beginning. After all, it's what keeps you young."
The fellas keep active on more than just the tennis courts. Romaine is the past commodore of the CMCS sailing club, competing in regional regattas and events throughout the year, and is currently organizing the club's 50th annual Summerset Regatta, setting sail in October. Fell plans to join the CMCS sailing club soon, as he also partakes in the boating world, and his wife, Sharon, is the fleet captain of the Fort Myers Beach Yacht Club. Marcelo is another boating enthusiast, enjoying a more quiet day on the water, fishing pole in hand, along with other diligent outdoor activities like gardening and bike riding.