Although the tennis tournament has many repeat players, some of 2022's winners were first-timers.
Rebecca and Randy Gibson were newcomers to the Observer Challenge, but that didn’t stop them from tearing it up in Division 1 during the championship Jan. 9. Rebecca Gibson took all the marbles in a set that went to a 5-5 deuce, while Randy Gibson went four games in a set during his singles match without losing a point. Their friends, tournament veterans Stacey Allerton and Marc Pommainville, asked them to join their team for the tournament, which ran from Jan. 7-9.
“We weren’t dummies, we knew who to ask,” Allerton said.
Rebecca Gibson said the talent in the division was equal and competitive; the men’s doubles game lasted far longer than the women’s doubles played at the same time. They played Enrique Vela, Ute Vela, Mitzi Lamy and Kevin Lamy for the win. After a weekend spent at the Longboat Key Tennis Center, the Gibsons agreed: They’re committed now. They’ll be back for more camaraderie and more competition.
“All it takes is a couple points,” Randy Gibson said. “We had a couple close games that we ended up winning.”
Similarly, in Division 3, which was played as a round robin, a group of total newcomers won the championship. Joe Malave, Melissa Stanely, Jennifer Herke and Nelson Cabrera also pulled out some tough wins after being down badly. Cabrera won his singles game after being down 4-1 — after playing a men’s doubles game that went to 6-4. They played a lot of tennis, but outlasted the competition.
“This team came together last minute,” Herke said. “We met at the party (on Jan. 6).”
The 2022 tournament, which was the 21st edition of the Observer Challenge after the Tennis Center took a year off in 2021 due to the pandemic, was one of the smallest draws ever. There were just three divisions, and tennis center director Kay Thayer said the lower turnout might have had something to do with COVID-19. However, those who played were happy to be there.
“We had really good quality teams, there just weren’t as many in it this year,” Thayer said.
Still, many people turned up to watch the championship on Jan. 9, including many who had played in the tournament in the past. Jim Purcell and Milan Adrian, both of whom play regularly at the tennis center and have played in the Observer Challenge multiple times, came by to cheer on their friends in Division 2, but stayed for much of the morning’s events. They smartly positioned themselves between the courts to easily take it all in.
Division 2 wrapped things up quickly, as the team of victors — repeat Observer Challenge players Bob Dreyfus, MJ Waite, Rhonda Snow and Andy Geller — swept all five games in their final. After proper congratulations and “good games” were in order, they settled in to watch the last bit of Division 1. Dreyfus has played in the Observer Challenge nearly annually and has picked up a thing or two about the tournament’s format, which has men and women play doubles, followed by mixed doubles and men’s and women’s singles.
“The key to the Observer Challenge is good women,” Dreyfus said. “The male players are incidental. Sometimes you split it, and it comes down to mixed doubles, but it’s usually all about the women. I’ve seen it year after year.”
Join the Neighborhood! Our 100% local content helps strengthen our communities by delivering news and information that is relevant to our readers. Support independent local journalism by joining the Observer's new membership program — The Newsies — a group of like-minded community citizens, like you. Be a Newsie.