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With an assist from a friend, Southern captain completes long road to Nationals

April 5, 2014 05:28 PM
Rhonda Edwards (left) and Cheryl Lancaster pose with the team shirts specially designed by Lancaster.

By J. Fred Sidhu, special to USTA.com

SURPRISE, Ariz. – Rhonda Edwards of Paducah, Ky., remembers learning to play tennis when she was a little girl through a park program, starting in the game because her grandmother wanted her to play an individual sport.

She remembers hitting tennis balls against a wall and using one can of tennis balls all summer long.

That was the start of a lifelong love for tennis for the 59-year-old Edwards – one she capped this weekend by playing in her first USTA League National Championship after serving as a USTA League captain for more than two decades.

Edwards, who works as an occupational therapist, would go on to play tennis in high school. After a break, she picked up the game again when she was in her 20s. She completed her journey when she and her husband became members of the Paducah Country Club – it was there that she began playing USTA League tennis.

Since that time, she has graduated from player to captain and has even helped start teams at another, nearby country club. “Since then I’ve always been a captain,” she said. “I’ve always been interested in the captain side of it.”

Part of being a captain is building team unity. So a few years ago she and the members of her team went to a woman who did Appliqué, which is a pattern used to decorate a garment. They had vests and sweatshirts made with tennis-themed designs stitched on them.

Years later, when Edwards was wearing the vest at a tournament, one of her teammates, Cheryl Lancaster, told her she was the one who did the Appliqué for Edwards’ team in the late 1980s.

And as it turns out, tennis wasn’t the only thing Edwards and Lancaster had in common. When she was a kid, Lancaster would visit her aunt who lived two blocks from Edwards, and soon the two discovered that they used to play together as children. And when they were in high school, Edwards and Lancaster attended the same church camp.

No longer just casual acquaintances, Edwards and Lancaster, who lives in nearby Mayfield, Ky., have now been playing USTA League tennis together for more than 20 years.

“Our paths had crossed, but it took tennis to bring us together,” Edwards said. “We became really good friends. It’s almost like fate that we play tennis together.”

When asked how it felt to finally make it to a USTA National Championship after serving as a team captain for more than two decades, Edwards said, “As a USTA player, you dream about it. I’ve played so long and worked so hard as a captain, and I tried to have good players on the team. I never thought I would be here.”

As Edwards spoke about her experience of leading her Southern Section team to this weekend’s 2013 USTA League Adult 55 & Over 8.0 National Championships at the Surprise Tennis & Racquet Complex in Surprise, Ariz., she said she was most thankful for the people she has met and the friends she has made along her journey to Nationals – and what a journey it has been.





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