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Thieves could not take away team's camaraderie

By Ron Cioffi

It wasn’t the best of times for Jeff Conkle. A skilled carpenter who installs high-end cabinets, Conkle had been laid off due to the slowdown in the housing market.

Then his car was sitting on the street in front of his house when someone broke in and stole his tennis bag.

“All my racquets and my tennis shoes were in that bag,” Conkle said. “There was $600 to $800 in equipment in there.”

What’s a team to do? Captain Sam Lewis told it this way: “We went to the local tennis store. We know the owner. And we told him Jeff was coming in and he could pick out any racquet he wanted and we would pay for it. And that’s what he did. Also, one of our players just won a new bag and he gave it to him.”

Conkle talked warmly about his 6.0 teammates as they were competing at the 2009 USTA Mixed Doubles Championships in Tucson, Ariz.

“The team’s A1. Everybody is so nice and generous. You won’t find a better bunch of people. … I’m still using that racquet.”

Karen Lewis, Sam’s wife, explained, “He’s a father of three and with the economy, he was just out of work. What else could we do? … He’s a great player. On the men’s team (USTA Men’s 3.5), he went undefeated in singles through the state tournament this year.”

“We’ve got a wonderful team,” said Karen Lewis who is sidelined with a foot injury. “There is so much camaraderie and support.”

She is also enthused about the growth of tennis is her hometown of Wilmington, Ohio.

“We just got a $50,000 USTA grant and we’ve built 10 new courts," she said. "We’ve got kids getting onto QuickStart teams. More than 230 youth have come out for programs in the last two start-up sessions."
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