"This started out as a tournament for the average player,'' said Hanna, who entered the inaugural Public Courts event in 1959 as a 15-year-old.
"Tennis was a club sport, but at the time they were trying to introduce tennis to the average kid, and get school tennis started. Of course, they had a rule for a number of years that if you were a very good player, you were banned from this tournament. That list kept getting more and more names on it, but it eventually got dropped.''
Hanna said the allure of the Public Courts is that even past Kanawha Valley residents come back home to compete so that they can renew acquaintances with old friends.
"You've got the same people coming back every year,'' Hanna said. "People from out of town come back for a week to play in this tournament, and to see people they remember. It's almost like a reunion of tennis players in this area. People who don't play in any other tournament play in this one.''
George Bsharah, a manager at Charleston Tennis Club, grew up in Boone County and started getting involved in tennis in his 30s. His friendship with the Isaacs helped him get connected with the Public Courts.
"This is just a community thing,'' Bsharah said. "It's more than tennis each year. It's as much a social event. As far as a tennis player in this community, this is the event they look forward to every year, more than any other tournament. Other clubs have weekend tournaments and people have fun, but this is the one everyone wants to play in and everyone wants to win.
"But people look forward to coming down and seeing old friends. And they raise scholarship money for the scholarships they give away. It's kind of a special tournament. A lot of people through the years have helped as sponsors and volunteers and everybody pitches in and gets it done. It takes a whole community to do it. Just four, five people cannot do this tournament.''
Rory Isaac noted that volunteers don't have to have a long background in the sport to make a big difference.
Isaac told a story about 12-year-old London Straughter showing up one day at the tennis hut next to the Kanawha City courts in 2003, wondering if he could help.
Straughter, now 22, is an indispensable part of the Public Courts team, Isaac said, who works sometimes for 12 hours straight, even after arriving right from his normal job, or from other volunteer work with the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization.
"Basically, he could run this site today,'' Isaac said, "and probably do it better than I do. He's quite a young man. We've gotten really, really close.''
Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or rickr...@wvgazette.com.