This past weekend was the 115th Ojai Valley Tennis Tournament, lovingly referred to by many as “The Ojai,” a yearly tradition in which the town of Ojai and the surrounding areas are taken over by the best college tennis players in the Pac 12 Conference, along with extremely competitive high school and open divisions. Over the course of four days during the last full week of April, approximately 1500 players compete on nearly 100 courts, from schools to public courts and even private residences. The tournament runs smoothly with the help of over 500 volunteers who do everything from report scores, check tickets, pour orange juice and tea, and more!
My family has been long connected with the tournament. There are five trophies in honor of members of my family (some have since been retired). My dad has volunteered in multiple capacities and board positions, just having passed 50 years since the first year he participated in the tournament. He presents two of our family awards.
As for me, this was the 23rd year since the first time I “volunteered” at the Ojai Valley Tennis Tournament. In 1992, I was an integral part of the trophy ceremony for the highly competitive “Girls Doubles Sixteen and Under” (see picture). My grandmother, Patricia Wash Norris, was elegantly dressed (as usual) in her flowing pink dress and matching hat. I kept it real in a white polo and some checkered shorts. So Nantucket. Five years later, I gave out the award with my dad and… well, I was eleven at the time, so the picture just isn’t that cute. Drop it already.
Anyone who’s seen a tennis match on television knows about Ball Boys and Ball Girls (collectively “Ball People”), you know, the runners scurrying about the court collecting tennis balls after each point? Historically speaking, The Thacher School has always provided their freshmen as the Ball People for later rounds of the Ojai. I was a team leader, and that started my volunteering in an “official capacity.”
While at Thacher, I continued to volunteer for the tournament, mostly working with my dad in the Media Department, handling Public Relations, and Posting Scores. We quickly became fast friends with the Pac 12 organizers and Ventura Starr reporters. We grew highly proficient in reading draws and giving directions to desperate players looking for private courts. Over those four years, I watched the Bryan brothers dominate their competition before going on to become the Grand Slam winners they are today. I watched my friends compete and my old coach win the Open Division! By the end of high school, I was managing other students in running scores, fielding phone calls, and handling media requests. Like father, like son.
Unfortunately, I was only able to work the tournament twice during college. It conveniently overlapped with my Spring Break, and the thought of sunny Ojai will always trump New England in the last weekend in April. When I came back, I continued to work in the Media Department with my dad, posting scores and handling customer complaints.
Starting in 2009, I started volunteering at the tournament every year (except one when my brother was getting married at our house in Ojai). Sure, I enjoy watching the tennis. It makes me want to play again (oh, and I will!). But perhaps more importantly, as of lately, I’ve really enjoyed getting to know the longstanding volunteers that have crafted this tournament, year after year. Some have spent as many as 50 years behind the scenes, putting up the sun shades and the picture boards. Blowing off the damp tennis courts and at the end of the weekend, breaking down the tents and draw boards. Selfless. Committed.
I love the fact that Ojai, a tiny town of approximately 8,000 residences can host the Pac 12 Team Championship with a team of 500 volunteers at the helm. It’s like an aging, tennis version of The 300. The camaraderie amongst the volunteers is one of a battle worn unit, standing strong against the thousands of players and spectators converging on Libbey Park to watch young, fit people hit around green fuzzy balls.
I have been volunteering active behind the scenes of “The Ojai” for 13 years now and I don’t imagine I will be stopping any time soon. I’m pretty sure dad is somewhere near 25 years now. And as I’ve already mentioned, some of the oldest volunteers are nearing 50 years of volunteering for the tournament. Needless to say, we’ll both be back next year, posting scores.
Quite frankly, it doesn’t really matter who’s playing, I just can’t wait to catch up with the other volunteers, reporters, and some of the usual, smiling faces of “The Ojai.”