ALBANY — Brad McEwen
Scores of amateur and professional tennis players flocked to Albany over the weekend for the SOWEGA Council on Aging’s annual Serving Up Meals tennis event at Doublegate Country Club.
The event, which is now in its third year, is a way to raise awareness about the many programs and services provided throughout South Georgia by the Council on Aging, especially the organization’s Meals on Wheels program that helps feed thousands of homebound residents each year.
According to SOWEGA Council on Aging Development Director Izzie Sadler, who spearheads the event, this year’s Serving Up Meals tennis tournament drew 80 participants from around Southwest Georgia and North Florida to compete in the club-level tournament.
Sadler said the event, which continues today from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., also drew eight professionals who will showcase their talents while competing for a $1,000 purse.
“They are going to fight for the opportunity to play for $1,000,” said Sadler. “Having the pros play is a way for the club players to see some really good tennis, to be inspired by that. And it’s a way to get the pros involved in raising awareness for what we’re playing for. And that’s the main thing that we’re doing here, we’re Serving Up Meals.”
Indeed, Sadler said the tennis tournament is gaining popularity each year. And while it isn’t a huge fundraiser for the Council on Aging, it’s become an important way for the organization to gain exposure.
“It’s more of an awareness event,” said Sadler. “But we’ve increased (funds raised) each year. The first year we raised about $2,500, the second year we raised about $3,500 and this year we’re looking at getting about $7,000, so we’re starting to get up there.”
SOWEGA Council on Aging Executive Director Kay Hind said the recognition the event gets is good because it draws participants from outside the Albany area, which increases awareness.
“It’s an important event because it makes people recognize us as an agency,” she said. “We’re always glad for good publicity, and this brings out a different group of people than we normally see. They come from more than just Albany. We’re really proud of this.”
While Serving Up Meals is good for the Council on Aging and the Meals on Wheels program, it also helps raise awareness for tennis in the Albany area.
The Albany Tennis Association helps put on the event, and on Friday night several members of the organization hosted tennis clinics for children. Yvette Armstong, the president of the Albany Tennis Association, said the clinics drew close to 50 kids of all ages.
“Our goal is to promote tennis in the Albany area,” Armstrong said Saturday. “Last night, the Albany Tennis Association came out and put on a clinic, and it was a lot of fun.”
The fun continued on Saturday when several participants battled it out for small prizes and bragging rights during the club-level competitions.
“Right now, I play in leagues in Alabama, Georgia and Florida, and I do this kind of stuff for fun,” said Blue Whitaker, who travelled from Tallahassee to take part in the tourney. “It’s very tight, and they do a good job.”
David Buerkle, the director of tennis at Doublegate, agreed, saying that not only was the event a lot of fun, it helped local tennis gain exposure while allowing the club to help a worthy cause.
“It’s a great cause, so we want to do our part for the community and run a great event and welcome everybody so they can enjoy a great weekend of tennis,” said Buerkle.
Although Sadler and others from the organization and from the Albany Tennis Association gave a considerable amount of their time to the event, Sadler said the event’s many sponsors from the community were also very important.
Sponsors for this year’s Serving Up Meals include Longleaf Dental; U Save It; Stewbo’s Restaurant Group; ASP—America’s Swimming Pool Co.; Brooks Furniture; Dental Partners of Southwest Georgia; Flint Community Bank; FLINT Equipment; JLB Family Properties; Kelley, Lovett and Blakey; Merril Lynch/Michael Cohen; Porterfield United Methodist Church; Sadler Retirement; Albany Area Hand Therapy; Albany Landscape Co.; J.R. James Brokerage; Jon Moore; Margeson, Flynn & Associates; Dr. and Mrs. Frank Middleton; Mr. and Mrs. Charles Peeler; Pete Donaldson; Southwest Georgia Periodontics; Watson Spence; Wild Flour; Buffalo Rock, and Mars Chocolate North America.