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Longboat Key Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2021 5 months ago

Jovial tennis enthusiast strings jokes and rackets together

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Morgan is a familiar face among the members of the Longboat Key Tennis Center.
by: Mark Bergin Staff Writer

Visitors of the Longboat Key Public Tennis Center are often greeted by a familiar face and at least one joke.

Jay Morgan, 74, has shared his dry humor since the 1970s while stringing tennis rackets throughout Sarasota County.

“I string a lot better than I play,” Morgan said.

Morgan said he gets more fulfillment from stringing rackets for tennis players in Longboat Key even though he’s done work for such professional players as David Macpherson, Bob Bryan, Mike Bryan and Monica Seles.

The Longboat Observer recently caught up with the self-described “breeze-way stringer.”

How did you get your start?

I started in about either 1969 or 1970. I don’t remember which … I’m from North Dakota as you might have noticed. I’m proud of it, by the way.

So, I drove about 120 miles roundtrip to get my racket restrung, and after about 20 minutes or 30 minutes of play, the fresh racket job was ruined because the knot untied, and your string job is only as good as your knot.

So, I knew that I could do a better job of tying a knot because I've spent a lot of years in Boy Scouts. And, these are the same kind of knots you use there. You learn a lot more in Boy Scouts about knots than you do about tennis, believe me.

But, that got me so teed off that I knew I could do a better job than to have the knot untie. That was the impetus.  So, it was a hobby that got out of control. 

It takes Jay Morgan about 30-40 minutes to restring a tennis racket.

How long did it take you to learn the craft?

 It's trial by error. And then when I came to Florida in about 1973, I came down here with friends to southern Florida,  Belle Glade. I started playing tennis there, too.

And, there was a guy that came from West Palm Beach, which was about 40 miles away. He would drive in once a week with a van and he’d go to the private tennis club there and string rackets and then go back to West Palm Beach.

And that sort of was always in my head. ‘Like, why can’t I do something like that?’ 

I didn’t do any stringing there, but then I moved to Sarasota in about ’74-’75. That’s when I bought a real old-fashioned, heavy-duty, tennis-stringing machine, and I had it in my garage, and then I started more and more rackets.

How did I learn how to do it? By watching other guys do it like I do it.

Then in the ‘80s, somewhere about ’82 or ’83, I went up to Clearwater,  and I got sanctioned as a certified stringer. You spend a whole day up there in a tennis shop, where they got a bunch of machines and they give you some tests to test (your) stringing and so on. And, I passed it with flying colors because I’d already been stringing for about 10 years or more.

I continue to stay up on the United States Racquet Stringers Association by paying my dues.

Jay Morgan is proud of his North Dakota heritage. He moved to Florida in the 1970s.

 What is your favorite part of the job?

 The camaraderie we have here. It’s just the people we work with here.

I usually come out here with a joke every day, so as to test them to see if they can answer the joke. I have a thesaurus I use for that, and I think they love it anyway. And, they love hearing (and) getting the joke, and seeing if they can get it right and so on.

And there’s just a good atmosphere out here, and if there wasn’t a good atmosphere, I wouldn’t stay here. There's a lot to a tennis club, so even the players will tell you that there’s a great atmosphere here.”

Racket technician Jay Morgan holds up a beloved sign, which pays homage to Tennis Center manager Kay Thayer.

 

What does it mean to you when you have a customer, someone needing their racket restrung, and you’re able to provide that service for them?

 It’s pride. It’s pride that they come back a second, third, fourth time, because that means that they like... It’s consistency.

A player can tell right away if you're consistent, meaning is the tension the same as it was last time? Is the string the same as it was last time? Did I try to pull a fast one and put some other string in there? I didn't do that. They want consistency. That's a big deal, and you don't want the knot to untie.

Mark Rosenfeld (left) says hello to Jay Morgan (right) on Monday, Aug. 2 at the Longboat Key Tennis Center.

 

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Mark Bergin is the Longboat Key Town Hall reporter for the Observer. He has previously worked as a senior digital producer at WTSP, the CBS affiliate in St. Petersburg. Mark is a graduate of the University of Missouri and grew up in the Chicagoland area.

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