WHEN YOU ARE SITTING ON TOP of the bell-shaped curve, resting at the very height of averageness, many would say that it would be hard to go anywhere but down. Well, they'd all be wrong.
After ascending to the pinnacle of mediocrity, I have climbed yet higher -- to the United States Tennis Association's North Carolina state senior men's 3.5 doubles team championships. At these championships the best team of mediocre over-age-50 male doubles tennis players in the state will be definitively determined -- proving conclusively that most members of that winning team should have been playing in a higher division.
I could start this account by regaling you with my many past athletic accomplishments -- but I don't really have any. The previous high point of my athletic career was playing on an undefeated junior varsity football team for George Washington High School in Danville, Virginia, in the fall of 1966.
The coach used me to finish off key games. I played six plays in seven games. I "played" defensive halfback. I say "played" because that is what I practiced for but not where I played for half of my six grand moments of glory. I was put in once on offense late in the fourth quarter at the wingback position. I did not know what a wingback was much less what it was supposed to do. (On both my plays at wingback, I lined up where I thought a "wingback" should line up, and then blocked the guy in front of me.)
I also played the essential last down of the Virginia Episcopal School game (score 28-6, our favor). As one of two kick return specialists back to receive a free kick, my strategy was to pray to God that the ball not come to me. Thanks to the fervency of my request, the ball went to the other sucker who had also never even practiced returning a kick. I, for my part, blocked the guy in front of me.
My three plays at defensive halfback were generally uneventful, except the one where I recovered a fumble by a pass receiver I was supposedly defending and was returning it for a touchdown -- when the official ruled it an incomplete pass. In playing time, my football career took less time than it did for you to read about it.
Tennis is an entirely different matter. The ball is much smaller, for one thing. Further, physical contact is more limited in tennis than it is in football -- unless you count me hitting my partner, inadvertently, in most cases, with my racket.
Actually, I do already have a tennis championship -- but, due to the rampant sexism in our society, many of you will not count it: the 2004 Sweet Briar College Reunion Weekend Doubles Championship. Yes, Sweet Briar, my darling wife's alma mater is a women's college. However, due to the odd number of women enrolled in the tournament, they took me, an odd male, to fill out the bracket.
In the finals, I (playing with a member of the class of '64) beat my wife (playing with a member of class of '99) to take the championship. (My lovely and talented wife can explain why her 27-year-old former Sweet Briar tennis team member was not the asset that she could have been, and why my 62-year-old partner actually looked younger than hers. It involves a "party-like-it’s-1999" party the night before in her room which lasted until 5 am.)
Anyway, back to men's tennis, before the season I felt that our Hollow Rock team could easily finish in the top two in our league -- given there were only two teams. Then, when I had to explain the rules of the game before our first match to our opponents (specifically, how a tie-breaker is played), I calculated our chances of winning the league to be 50-50. I was, as it turns out, being pessimistic.
As a team, we crushed them to a smudge, winning seven of eight matches. Out of pure generosity I won't mention our opponents' name, but suffice it to say that it these pleasant gentlemen were from an expensive, exclusive, gated-community with a name-brand golf course in northern Chatham County. I, personally, as would be expected, won four and lost three matches, the closest to perfect mediocrity that one can get in seven matches.
Coming soon: First-round elimination from the state championships!
Gary D. Gaddy really is going in June to the state senior men's 3.5 doubles team championships, where he expects, if the stars align properly, his team will still be crushed to a smudge by an under-rated team from Mecklenburg County.
A version of this article was published in the Chapel Hill Herald on Thursday June 28, 2007. Copyright 2007 Gary D. Gaddy