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Longboat Key Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021 2 weeks ago

Observer Challenge canceled, but tennis community swings on

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While organized competitions are still off the table, tennis players on Longboat Key still get their practice in.
by: Nat Kaemmerer Staff Writer

Things may still be swinging in the Longboat Key tennis community, but any sanctioned competition remains off the table for now as concerns over COVID-19 remain. 

At the Longboat Key Public Tennis Center, there are still plenty of players, but no competitions — including the 21st edition of the Observer Tennis Challenge — will happen for the foreseeable future. 

Walter Hatt warms up for doubles.

The Observer Challenge, usually the second weekend in January, draws more than 100 players and is nearly as much a social event as it is a competition. Spectators cluster around the courts to watch their loved ones or adversaries and the atmosphere is one of a friendly rivalry. The weekend usually opens with a cocktail party, too. 

“To have that many people congregating together on and off the court … Just because you got more people on each team, and they're going to be chatting with each other trying to figure out their strategies and just having so many people, it's just not going to be the right thing,” Tennis Center manager Kay Thayer said. 

It’s not the first tournament the tennis center has had to cancel this year. There’s usually a December tournament that draws 300 people to Bay Isles Road. Every tournament, social hour, going-away or welcome-back party and league play event has been canceled since March, and Thayer isn’t sure when those will resume. 

The virus has to be under control, she said, and she doesn’t want to risk an outbreak that stems from the tennis center. Social events and tournaments, including the Observer Challenge, will return when it’s safe.  

“We're really not doing anything truly organized,” Thayer said. “We have people that are doing their own little round robins, but they're still using all our guidelines like keeping six feet apart and wearing their masks. That's probably all we'll do this spring (and) this winter, until everything calms down and hopefully by next fall, we can resume with our leagues.”

Thayer still sees a bevy of play daily, but not to the degree that there typically are at this time of year. Those in town use tennis as a safe outlet, where they’re able to see friends but stay at a distance. 

“This is very important to them to be able to get out and socialize with their friends, but in a safe way, not (by) going to dinner, or something like that where you're enclosed,” Thayer said. “Our goal is to be able to keep that going throughout this.”

At the Longboat Key Club’s Tennis Gardens, life looks mostly the same, said director of tennis Briana Harris Francois. They’re holding off on bringing in any outside tournaments for now, but there aren’t any that would be happening now anyway. Some charity events that would take place at the Tennis Gardens have been canceled, however. 

But for the most part, members still play as they normally would, and they just have to wear their masks on the sidewalks until they’re ready to play. Harris Francois said it seems like there are a comparable number of members in town that there were last year, too. 

“Everything we’re doing is still the same because it seems to work,” Harris Francois said.

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