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Making a tradition continue: 73rd Michigan-Wisconsin Tennis Open to run as planned

Justin St. Ours | Daily Press Hayden Drury returns the ball against Brett Girard during the Men’s Class A championship match in the 72nd Michigan-Wisconsin Tennis Open, Aug. 3, 2019, in Escanaba. The tournament is set to run for its 73rd year this weekend.

ESCANABA — Not even the coronavirus pandemic will prevent the Michigan-Wisconsin Tennis Open from running for its 73rd year this weekend at area courts in Escanaba.

In a year of many unknowns and cancellations, the two-day tournament will still be played as scheduled, with singles playing Saturday and doubles playing Sunday. The tournament, which is for men and women of all ages, will have roughly 40 participants this year, down from around 100 in recent years.

“I think it’s a positive feeling that we can still put something together. I think this is the 73rd year, and to still do something positive and to promote this sport, is a good thing,” said Tom Penegor, a former tournament director who helped put the tournament together again this year. “A lot of people are looking for things to do and are involved in a lot of activities that have been shut down. With things like that happening consistently throughout the year, for them to be able to have an event like tennis, which is ranked like a 1 in terms of picking up (the virus), it’s a good thing to exercise and socialize. There are a lot of other things that are higher (risk) than that, so it’s good to promote it and still get people out.”

Like almost every other event that’s gone on this year, precautions will be used to try to prevent the spread of the virus.

“We’re still going to be taking precautions. We’ll still have hand sanitizers at all the sites, and we’ll still promote not hugging and stuff like that. You can tap the racquet to still get your point across,” Penegor said. “It’s a sport where you don’t have thousands of people coming to watch. We will be promoting social distancing and have hand sanitizer and whatever else we might need to do to make it as safe as possible.”

Matches will be played at Royce Park, Veterans Park and Escanaba High School. Schedules will be posted at Royce Park Saturday morning. Ludington Park won’t be used, although Penegor noted the courts should have some work done to them soon.

“I know the city is looking to work on those tennis courts down at Ludington Park in the fall. I know it’s on the budget, and I know they have some plans for fixing those courts and tearing them out and putting them in from scratch again,” Penegor said. “Whether they can do all four in one year, or maybe half of them or three of them, I’m not sure, but that will definitely be a positive for future Michigan-Wisconsin tennis tournaments.

“A lot of people from outside of the area, that’s one of their first questions: ‘Are they playing down at the park this year, or what’s the status of that?’ That location is second to none in the Upper Peninsula, especially when you add that they have lights to play in the evening. It’s something that we’re definitely pushing to have done, and we support the city 100% in achieving that goal of finishing the courts down there sometime soon.”

The tournament has brought in plenty of talent in the past, including some former NCAA Division 1 players. This year’s slate includes top senior players Denny Cruiser from Wisconsin and Earl Lepisto from Wallace. Also attending from Gaylord will be ladies players Cathy Johnson and Sue Smith.

“(Denny and Earl) are ranked players from the senior division,” Penegor said. “Both of those guys have played here before, and they both play in a lot of local events and national events. They’re two top players in the senior division.”

Players will also be coming from all over the U.P., per usual.

“We’ve got people coming in from Negaunee, Marquette, Menominee, Ishpeming and West Iron County, so we are bringing people into the area to help the economy and play a sport that’s good as far as exercise and socializing,” Pengor said. “But you can do it at a distance, you don’t have to be on top of each other.”

All proceeds from the tournament will benefit the Escanaba High School tennis program.

“To me, the goal of the tournament is to keep such a positive event going in our community, where they both feed on each other — it’s good for the community and it’s good for the sport of tennis,” Penegor said.

“Most sports you can see where they go up and down, but the nice thing about tennis is this is a sport you can play for the next 50 years. In football and hockey, you play in high school and then it’s pretty much done … you can’t play it anymore. In tennis, you can play it forever. So that’s my No. 1 goal with the high school kids is just to keep the kids playing for the next 50 years. Then after that, it’s just improving and playing a sport and passing a tradition on to your family, your siblings, and maybe your sons and daughters in the future.”

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