VOLUNTEER ARMY RUNS TENNIS TOURNAMENT
The Miami Herald - Sunday, March 1, 1992
Author: JUDY BATTISTA
You've seen them at your favorite tennis tournament -- that army of adults clad in polo shirts and shorts and wearing sun visors just so as they scurry around the grounds of the Virginia Slims of Florida at the Polo Club Boca Raton and the Lipton on Key Biscayne.
They're everywhere. Taking tickets. Selling programs. Running errands for players. Feeding information to reporters. Even handing out towels in the locker rooms.
When the Slims is played this week, the 162 tournament volunteers will be there again. But if you think it's a sense of altruism that gets these people to spend a week out in the hot sun showing spectators where the restrooms are, think again.
"I think it's fun to be as involved and as close to the pros as I have been able to be," said Diane Leininger, a volunteer who, after five years at the tournament, is in charge of all the volunteers. "You get to meet their families and you get to see more of what makes them work on the circuit."
Among Leininger's favorite memories: talking daily with members of Steffi Graf's entourage, even after their charge lost in the finals; and giving baseball player Gary Carter and his daughter a tour of the tournament.
So many people applied to volunteer at the tournament this year -- despite the mandatory 40-hour work week -- that tournament director Sharon O'Connor had to turn people away. Most of the volunteers who will work the grounds this year worked last year -- and probably the year before that, too. Their pay: a tournament T-shirt and sweat shirt, a sun visor, meal tickets and tournament tickets.
"Most of the volunteers we've had for a long time. They come back year after year, and we don't even have to tell them what to do anymore," O'Connor said. "They do everything. They're vital to this tournament."
Most of the volunteers are retirees from Boca Raton and Delray Beach. Some live at the Polo Club itself, despite residents' complaints last year that the tournament brought too much traffic to the private community. They're people who play tennis and like being around the courts and the players.
But then there's John Cannella, 44, a volunteer extraordinaire. He takes a week off from his job in IBM's software support department to run the press tent. By anyone else's standards, this would not qualify as vacation. He gets to the Polo Club at 7:30 a.m. and spends the day escorting players from the courts to the interview room and fielding calls from all over the world. He doesn't go home until 10 p.m.
He's got the mementos to show for his work: a picture with defending champion Gabriela Sabatini; four years of draw sheets hanging on the living room wall; and the tale of the time two years ago when Jennifer Capriati plotted to sneak away to have pizza with her friends.
"It's something I couldn't buy on vacation," Cannella said. "All the action . . . You hear the interviews, see players react to questions. You can look at them and remember different things. You never really know how they are out of the limelight. But most are really nice.
"You walk out at the end of the day and you think it went so fast."
The best job to have? Ushering, say the volunteers, who get to stand just off the courts to show people to their seats and make sure crowds stay still during play.
"You will see some of the players around or occasionally have conversations with them. You get to view matches. We've gotten autographs for our children and grandchildren," said Stan Rassler, a Polo Club resident who along with his wife Ellie will volunteer for the third time at the Slims. "It is nice to be part of the action that takes place. It puts you right on the scene."
IF YOU GO
* What: The Virginia Slims of Florida tennis tournament, with a draw of 56 women in the singles tournament and 28 doubles teams.
* Where: Polo Club Boca Raton, 5400 Champion Blvd. (Military Trail just north of Clint Moore Road).
* When: Monday through next Sunday. On Monday and Tuesday, the day session will begin at 9 a.m. and the evening session at 6 p.m; Wednesday-Friday, day session will begin at 10 a.m., evening session at 6 p.m. Saturday's early session will begin at 2 p.m., and evening session at 7 p.m. Next Sunday's finals will begin at 2 p.m.
* Tickets: Next Sunday's finals are sold out; tickets for individual sessions Monday through Saturday cost $10 to $20. To order, call (305) 491-7115, (407) 395-8512 or Ticketmaster at (407) 839-3900 or (305) 358-5885. * Parking: There is no parking at Polo Club Boca Raton. All parking is at Royal Palm Polo, adjacent to the west entrance of the Polo Club on Jog Road between Linton Boulevard and Yamato Road. Shuttle service to the tennis facility will run continuously during the event. Parking costs $3 per day.
Last edited by Ms. Anthropic; Nov 30th, 2012 at 02:47 PM.