Dennis R. Butler, 54, started playing tennis a few years ago and immediately loved the sport. He has organized most of the tennis players in Vicksburg, Miss., and became the captain of four different USTA League teams -- 6.0, 7.0 and 8.0 senior mixed teams, as well as a 6.5 women’s combo team. In addition, he plays on a 4.0 men’s team from Jackson, Miss. In his first year as captain three years ago, he took his 6.0 team to the state championships, and this past year, all four of his teams qualified for states. He organizes his tennis schedule around his flexible work schedule as an environmental engineer for the Army Corps of Engineers and plays or goes to practice with his team almost every day.
For his efforts in organizing tennis, he has been named the USTA League Captain of the Month for September.
USTA.com: How long have you been playing tennis? How did you start playing?
Dennis R. Butler: About four or five years. I was a basketball player for a long time. I got too old for basketball, so I had to find something else to do. I tried golf first, but it was too slow for me. I tried tennis and fell in love with it. Now I am addicted. I play almost every day. Weather permitting, I am trying to play. And if I am not playing, I am out watching some of the people on my teams play, so I am out there four to five days a week.
I have met a lot of good people playing tennis, and I love being around them.
USTA.com: How long have you been a captain? What made you decide to become a captain?
Dennis R. Butler: I have been a captain from Day 1. The way it got started was I said, ‘Let’s try getting in a league just to try.’ We were just hitting around. Our first year, which was three years ago, we got a team together. I talked with a local league coordinator; she was very helpful in walking us through what to do. We got a team, and we only lost one match, which was the last match of the season, and we lost in a tiebreak. Whoever won that match was going to states. We got that close in our first year.
After that, I vowed that we were going to make states, so the next year, my 6.0 and 7.0 mixed teams went to states. This year, being the third year in the league, so far we had three mixed teams (6.0, 7.0 and 8.0 senior) go to states and a fourth, my 6.5 ladies’ combo team, just qualified for states, as well. (Being a captain) just kind of happened out of necessity because someone had to do it.
We have been blessed. It is a lot of hard work, we come out and try to practice as much as possible and play as much as possible. Tennis is not really big around here; we don’t have a lot of young people who play, so we are trying to get the youth involved in it. After they play in high school, many of them quit playing. The average age of our team is 40-something. When we get to states, we run run into the young people, and they beat up on us. So we’re working on getting the young people back.
USTA.com: What was the experience like of going to states?
Dennis R. Butler: After we lost that very first year, losing in a tiebreak, we really wanted to come back the next year. We got this close; it made everybody hungry to really go back. The next year, to have two teams make it, it was very fulfilling, especially after the let down of the first year. It made us driven to get there. This year, to have three teams going and a fourth about to go, we set the bar kind of high for us. I don’t know how we are going to try to repeat that.
USTA.com: How hard is it organizing three different teams and all kinds of players? How much work does it involve?
Dennis R. Butler: It is a small group of us. We are a close-knit group, and it is a smaller community. There are a handful of people who play. We have people who play on 6.0 and 7.0 teams and have a different group that plays 8.0 senior and some of the same people on the 6.5 combo team. We all know each other; we are all out there together, anyway. With a small group of people, you end up playing every day, and you don’t have the luxury of being fragmented, like they do in the larger areas.
USTA.com: What do you enjoy about playing mixed doubles? How do you find the time for so many teams?
Dennis R. Butler: Mixed doubles is the easiest team to field. You got people coming out of the woodwork to play. Everyone is on time, everybody is at practice. Combo team is harder to field. I’ve told people, ‘I need you to play.’ But never during the mixed season, you have too many people. Everybody loves the mixed season.
We don’t have a lot of 4.0 guys. There are only a handful of us at 4.0, so that is hard for us to try and field a 4.0 men’s team. Combo is easier because you can have 4.0 and 3.5 players, so it is easier to do a combo. I play also with a 4.0 men’s team out of Jackson, about 45 minutes from here. Some of our players, we have another 4.0 female, she plays with a team outside of town, as well. If we don’t field a team, we play with other people. The kids are out of the house, so it is a good time to play tennis.
At my job, I am very flexible. I am an environmental engineer for the Army Corp of Engineers. I can work my tennis schedule into my work schedule.
USTA.com: How did you feel when you heard you were named Captain of the Month?
Dennis R. Butler: I was very shocked to be captain of the month for all of USTA Leagues. To me, that is a great honor. Then I went online, and I saw some of the previous people who had won. It is good to be put with those people. It is a great honor, to know your work is not going unnoticed. My players usually say I’m too hard or too intense (laughing). I’m glad they thought of me.
USTA.com: Who is your favorite tennis player?
Dennis R. Butler: Serena Williams
USTA.com: What is your favorite surface to play on?
Dennis R. Butler: Hard court
USTA.com: What kind of racquet do you use?
Dennis R. Butler: Babolat Overdrive Cortex 110 and Head Titanium Ti6
USTA.com: What is your favorite tennis tournament and why?
Dennis R. Butler: My favorite professional tournament is the US Open. It's held in the greatest city in the world, New York. My favorite local tournament is the "Cool Jelly" Tournament held in Jackson, Miss., at the Parham Bridges Tennis Center.
USTA.com: What is your favorite professional sports team, if any?
Dennis R. Butler: Chicago Bulls (with Michael Jordan).
USTA.com: What is the best part of your tennis game?
Dennis R. Butler: My net play.
USTA.com: If you could choose any doubles partner, who would it be?
Dennis R. Butler: Nadal. He's a lefty, I'm a lefty. He's aggressive, I am. It would be fun.
USTA.com: Why do you enjoy being a captain?
Dennis R. Butler: Who said I enjoyed it? Just kidding! It's an awesome experience. Getting people from different walks of life coming together with one goal in mind and accomplishing that goal.
USTA.com: What is the best aspect of playing USTA League tennis?
Dennis R. Butler: The people. I've met a lot of cool people.
USTA.com: If you could attend one Grand Slam tournament, what would it be and why?
Dennis R. Butler: The US Open. Again, it's in New York. I love New York.