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Public Courts elder statesmen

Kenny Kemp
From left, Harry Markham and Kent Robinson get ready to battle Chuck Wirts and Goutam Hattiangadi in a men's 70-and-over doubles match Friday at the Tennis Indoor Center.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- One thing to gather from the men's 70-and-over doubles division at the Charleston Public Courts is this: It's never too late to pick up the game or return to it, whatever the case may be.

And at the Public Courts, it's never too late to stick with it.

"I'm 74. I'm almost ready for the next bracket, if they get somebody to play in it," Chuck Wirts joked.

Wirts and Goutham Hattiangadi lost to Harry Markam and Kent Robinson 6-2, 7-6 in a match Friday night, as play was chased into the Tennis Indoor Center. The third team in the bracket is Don Tate and Clarence Woody, and the three teams will play a round-robin tournament.

Markam and Robinson both got into competitive tennis in the 35-40 age range, and their reasons were simple. "Both of us are athletes. We played basketball, softball; we got too old to play that. Tennis is a game you can play the rest of your life," Markham said.

Hattiangadi picked up the game at age 14 in his native Bombay, India, and won a Public Courts singles division championship in 1971. He played a lot in junior veterans brackets, but he eventually stopped in favor of recreational weekend play.

But now, the retired Union Carbide engineer is playing his first Public Courts since 1981. "Good atmosphere, nice people. It's good to be here," he said.

His partner is another Carbider, Wirts. The "old man" of Friday's match, Wirts remembers the old tennis complex at the Tech Center.

"When I moved to Charleston [from Chicago], when I was playing on the Carbide Har-Tru courts, that's where I started playing fairly seriously," Wirts said. "That was '73.

"They had eight very nice courts. I was involved for many years trying to take care of those courts. They were in good shape - kind of a shame we've lost them."

Wirts is also playing in the 65-and-over singles, and has a 9 a.m. Sunday match scheduled against John White.

Markham, 72, and Robinson, 70, have more local roots - Markham played basketball and baseball at Charleston High and West Virginia Tech, graduating in 1959 and 1963, respectively. Robinson is a 1961 graduate of Dunbar High.

Robinson said he has won three Public Courts titles in the various divisions, but Markham is loaded with titles. And yes, they came later in his competitive tennis career.

"I wasn't that good until I got about 50; all of them beat me like a drum," he said. "Then they got some ailments and I came on the last 15 years. Thirteen years, I've won something."

There's something about winning the battle of attrition. All four of the players are in tremendous shape for their age, though they report a few aches.

For Robinson, it's the shoulder. Markham has had two Achilles tendons repaired and has a creaky knee, and Wirts had a rotator cuff repaired two years ago. "Things aren't perfect, but they're all original equipment," Wirts joked.

They've all played through the pain, and this week they are serving as the Public Courts' elder statesmen.

"That's why we're here. It's fun, exercise, enjoyable," Robinson said.

Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, dougsmock@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.

 


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