Behind the Scenes as a Ball Kid
Deb Weinreich, Free-lance writer | July 31, 2017
NEWPORT, RI – There are many things that make a professional tennis tournament run smoothly. There are the grounds keepers who prepare the venue, tournament staff who make all the wheels turn, marketing team who sells tickets and gets sponsors, and of course, the players. One sometimes forgotten part of that all is the role of the Ball Kid. During the Dell Technologies Hall of Fame Open, we paid special attention to this bunch who aids the players in more ways than you may think.
The most important advice given to the first year or “rookie” Ball Kids by some of the veterans is to be still and be quiet. The veterans stress that if the players don’t know you’re there then you’re doing a good job. Don’t make a sound.
Sometimes remaining silent is easier said than done. Just ask Ball Kid, Lizzie Dowd. ADVERTISEMENT A few years ago, she was working the scoreboard on Center Court at the International Tennis Hall of Fame. She looked down and saw a critter sitting between her legs. She wanted to scream, jump and run off the court, but she knew she couldn’t. The match had just started.
“She stood there for two sets and didn’t move or say a word,” said Becky Silva, who, along with her husband Mike, has directed the Ball Kid program at the International Tennis Hall of Fame for the last 10 years. “It was pretty amazing.”
Becky and Mike Silva are at the helm of the program and have been for a decade. They review each Ball Kid application and look for leaders who are respectful on and off the court. Once selected, the Ball Kids prepare all spring. While John Isner, Sam Groth, Ivo Karlovic and others were preparing for Newport, so were the Ball Kids.
They practice various court positions - scoreboard, far back, near back and net. They practice and prepare over and over again. During this time, they are one big family, sixty-two members strong. Each Ball Kid is eventually assigned to a 12 member team. That team works together during the tournament chasing balls, handing out towels and hoisting large umbrellas to protect players from the blistering sun during the changeovers. After five weeks filled with practices, lectures and lessons, they head to the Hall of Fame courts in matching uniforms.
Cory Morris was the most senior of the group this year and served as the Head Ball Kid. The 17-year-old senior-to-be at Bishop Hendricken High School in Warwick, RI, has been a Ball Kid for the last decade.
“I am directly under Becky and Mike,” said Morris. “Everyone reports to me so that everyone isn’t going to Becky and Mike. They have a lot to do. “I try to know all (62) kids names, run the practice and get to know each kid.”
He shares his experience with the others and offers advice to the rookies, “You’ve prepared yourself. Do what you learned and you will be fine.” He goes on to say, “I offer them tips such as, ‘listen to the umps. They are your boss’,” said Morris.
He has endured rain delays that have extended days on end with matches moved indoors and days of serving as a Ball Kid under sweltering temperatures. There is no paycheck for this work. They just take home a uniform, some new friends, a picture or two with some of the players and memories that will last a lifetime.
“I love it. I love being part of the tournament. I love the tradition and the beauty of the campus,” said Morris, who is a member of the Hendricken tennis team and the 2017 National Champion Academic Decathlon Team. “I’ve seen so many changes to the Hall of Fame over the years. I remember the old wooden structure and now they have this beautiful facility.
Another Ball Kid, Morgan Crimmins, is an incoming freshman at Roger Williams University. She is all business when she steps onto a court – regardless if it’s a practice session or a match during the Dell Technologies Hall of Fame Open. This was her fourth year serving as a Ball Kid and this year she earned the role of team captain.
“I absolutely love being a Ball Kid. I love being on court with the players and being part of the match. I take it very seriously. I make sure I go out on court like a professional,” said Crimmins, a tennis player and national honor student. “You can’t help but be nervous when you first go out there, but if you stay focused and pay attention, you will be fine and that’s what I told my team.”
As players are eliminated throughout the week, naturally, fewer Ball Kids are needed. By mid-week, Becky and Mike must say good-bye to some of the Ball Kids.
The bond Becky has formed with each and every Ball Kid is evident during this time. “We are lucky to love what we do, and to have made so many wonderful connections and friends over the past decade. We love our Ball Kid family,” she said.
It’s no surprise that eliminating Ball Kids is the worst part of her job. She explained those with seniority typically stay and the rookies and those who have been disciplined by an official are eliminated. “We don’t use the term cut. We just say last day,” she said.
As the temperature soared to near 90 degrees as the Dell Technologies Hall of Fame Open approached midweek rookie Cornelia Ovren, 12, was sunburned, tired and ready for Becky to say it was her last day.
“I loved it, but I am tired and hot. It was kind of stressful because you don’t want to mess up. I was nervous. I didn’t want to make a mistake,” said Ovren. “Our first match was on the big court so everyone was watching but once we got out there, I knew what to do, and I was fine.” “We work as a team and help each other out,” said fellow first-year Ball Kid Amanda Murray.
Overall, the best part of being a Ball Kid is pretty unanimous. “Being on the court and being part of the match,” said Murray. “This is my Wimbledon, my US Open…(Andy) Roddick was my hero growing up. I had his poster in my room. It was great to be here for Roddick’s induction,” said Morris of the 2017 Hall of Fame inductee.
Both Murray and Ovren said they would return next summer and would love to mentor the rookies in 2018. They had some early advice for the up and comers, “Just make sure you know your rotation and know when you’re running and when you shouldn’t be running. Move out of the way and don’t try to catch serves,’ said Murray.
“My advice to rookies next year? That’s easy. Don’t get hit by a serve. It hurts. A lot,” said Ovren.
If you are interested in becoming a Ball Kid in next year’s tournament, you can be put on the waitlist by emailing Brewer Rowe, at firstname.lastname@example.org.