Attitude is Everything

The women's team from Wichita, Kansas.
Attitude Is Everything hat.
Captain Rebecca Bunting at League Nationals.

By Danielle Elliot, USTA.com

TUCSON, AZ – The women from Wichita are spreading the word: “Attitude is Everything.” It’s emblazoned on their bright pink and orange shirts, pins, hats and visors. It’s obvious in their cheery demeanor and graciousness on the court, win or lose.

As a player from another team hobbles by on crutches, team captain Rebecca Bunting stops her. She asks how the woman is doing, and offers words of encouragement. “I don’t know her,” she says, “she just looked like she needed a hug.”

What most of the other players do not know is just how much Bunting also needed a shoulder to lean on this summer. Her teammates, only mere acquaintances when the season started, offered her that same support.

“Play tennis, get a family,” she half jokes. “Who knew? They are my safe haven; they took care of me when I couldn’t.”

The team was playing its first match of the season when, Denice Bruce recalls, “We all heard sirens. We were thinking ‘Man, this must be something big’ because everyone was being called in.”

It was bigger than anyone could imagine. Bunting’s father, a well-known member of the community, had been murdered. He was shot in the foyer of a church less than a mile from the country club where the team was playing.

“When we heard it was Rebecca’s dad, we just sat there. We were stunned,” Bruce says. Teammate Sabrina Duncan recalls, “It was horrible. Everyone, even the Topeka players, we all stopped and said a prayer.”

“And at that point,” Bruce adds, “it just became ‘We’re gonna win this for Rebecca.”

The mantra stuck. It has carried the team all the way to Tucson, Arizona, for the USTA League 3.0 Adult National Championships.

“We’re here because of that. It became a common, therapeutic goal. It was something constructive to do in the face of a shocking event. I mean, what do you do when someone loses someone they love, especially in such a brutal way? Play some butt-kicking tennis. At least, that’s what we decided to do,” Bruce says, “She’s the reason we’re here.”

Bunting was not at the match on that tragic day – she was vacationing in Kansas City with her husband – but the team pulled out the win. It was just the first show of support in a summer that would be overflowing with it.

“This team kept me from unfathomable grief and despair. I didn’t want to be around anyone except my team. Tennis was my therapy, and they were my safety net.”

The charismatic mother of two fights off a tear – and starts to laugh – as she remembers seeing her teammates at the funeral. Everyone was dressed in bright party dresses. They were just following the captain’s orders. “I said, ‘Anyone who wears black to the funeral is playing doubles single in the next match!’”

As for her dress, “I picked out a bright yellow dress. When my daughter saw it, she told me I looked like a tennis ball, and that just, it just felt right.”

When she returned to court just two days later, teammate Duncan had a surprise waiting. “I was getting in my car and she just came running up to me and said ‘Wait!’ and dropped this big bag in my lap,” Bunting recounts.

The bag was full of visors embroidered with the slogan “Attitude is Everything.”

“My dad wore an ‘Attitude is Everything’ pin every day for 30 years,” she explains. “We knew this summer would be rough, and we decided to adopt his philosophy on life.”

Duncan ordered visors for the team, but soon had to place a second order. “Everyone was wearing them. The 3.5 combined team, the pros from both country clubs, even people who didn’t play but knew my dad, everyone wanted one,” Bunting says. She adds that she received cards and flowers from teams around the state.

As she describes her father and how her team rallied around her in the wake of his death, Bunting wavers between brief tears and joyful laughter. She talks about how they also supported her family, inviting her mother along to sectionals and essentially making her feel like part of the team. Her mom, two sisters and a niece are here this weekend to return the favor.

Together, they are focusing on the positive. And passing on the message. The team, as well as Bunting’s family members, continue to sport the visors, as well as hats and t-shirts with the slogan.

“Being here, this is very emotional. Dad would be very proud. To play at nationals is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and to be here with my family,” she says, as she points to her teammates as well as her true family members, “means more than anything.”

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