ENGLEWOOD — All it took was Bobbie Weichert screaming “court” to catch Tom Naughton’s attention.
“There was a large group of people playing tennis and I didn’t know if I would get the chance to play,” Naughton said. “When Bobbie yelled ‘court’ she told me to put my racket against the fence. Then when the players were done, they said I could use the court along with the others whose rackets were along the fence. That was nine years ago. I’ve been coming back ever since.”
Naughton joins about 85 regulars from El Jobean, Englewood, North Port, Venice, Port Charlotte at the Englewood tennis courts on Wentworth Avenue several times a week. Players from about age 65 and up still line up their rackets along the fence.
Each year, the group holds tournaments and picnics to follow. The group recently held its Mixed-Up Doubles tournament. This one was named after Fred Folta, a beloved member who passed away last year. That didn’t stop his widow Lu from attending the tournament.
“What I loved about Fred is that he was a snazzy dresser,” said Weichert, a 14-year group member. “He had a handlebar mustache and loved to dress up, even at the tennis court.”
Lu said her husband of 62 years was a “ladies man” when it came to Valentine’s Day.
“He would bring every woman a card at the tennis court,” she said. “He would put them in envelopes for each woman. I still have a few of them left. And for me, he gave me a dozen roses. I dated him for five years before we got married. He was a good guy, I wasn’t going to let him go.”
After the 32 players squared off on the court, they received a trophy to remember the 2019 Fred Folta tournament.
Rene Dube wore a glowing neon-yellow collared shirt to play the final match of the week-long tournament.
“Don’t tell anyone,” the 87-year-old whispered. “This is one of Fred’s shirts. He really was the best-dressed guy out here.”
Dube joked about being an “old fart” after winning a runner-up trophy along with his partner Virginia Albanese, 78. The winners were Ron Swantek, 72 and his 82-year-old partner Kathy McClintock. The teams tied in the last match.
The consolation finalists were Ghislaine Cyr and Tom Naughton. Naughton was injured and couldn’t play the last day so his friend Ed Webb partnered with Cyr. They played Barb Whittington and Allan Howe, who won the consolation trophies.
“The consolation matches are made up of the people who lose the first game then play other losers throughout the week to make it to the consolation trials,” said Naughton, who played the guitar and sang with the group just before the trophies were awarded.
Weichert said these days she not only yells “court” she also tells people to “just show up.” As the sun comes up, players arrive and alternate playing until about 10:30 a.m. daily.
“We have a pot luck lunch (including wine for some) after the tournament,” she said. “This group started about 40 years ago with four people. There’s a few of us that have been here for years. Virginia (Albanese) is one of them. The people are so friendly. No matter what’s going on in the world, we get together and have fun. It doesn’t take that much energy to smile, especially when you are dealing with people at the courts.”
The tournaments have been held in the park for 17 years.
“This is what has become one of Englewood’s enduring traditions for us, and judging by the enthusiasm, it will continue for a long time,” Naughton said.