Crowded in the small building, bleary-eyed from an early morning wake-up call, we waited, jumpy as cats, to hear our beloved state called, and to do battle. The organizer, Helen, Tibetan-monk cheerful, commenced the roll call.
“Tennessee. Mississippi,” she crooned.
“Sounds like a political convention,” I quipped.
But it wasn’t. If anything, it was the complete opposite. Instead of a cavernous arena filled with delegates, there were only rime-crusted clay courts, and a determined group of women tennis players vying not for a political platform, or candidate, but a regional championship.
Getting to Alabama and the Southern Sectionals, as they’re called, is an arduous task. It requires first a league, then a state championship. Our team represented North Carolina, had represented them two years before as well, a rather remarkable feat given how enormously popular amateur tennis is, especially for women of a certain age. But we did it, primarily because of our captain, who scours the countryside (well, less dramatically, the Triangle) for the very best tennis players. Relentlessly. The result has been teams over the years that cross party lines, races, religions, and, yes, even preferences in a certain college basketball rivalry.
But all of that–and I mean all of it–means nothing compared to our common goal. Even given the addictive allure of daily political firestorms (like the road kill that we vow not to, but can’t help but look at), we rarely discuss, though we are certainly aware of, our political differences. We sport liberals and conservatives, probably a few Tea Party devotees, and one Libertarian, who a few years back was her party’s nominee in North Carolina for governor. It’s not that we are indifferent; several teammates are quite active in local politics. It just doesn’t matter. After all, in the heat of a tennis match, who the heck cares if someone trends red or blue? When my doubles partner drops a shot over the net, the likes of which would get props from Serena, or I watch breathlessly from the sidelines as another teammate fearlessly slams a winner between her opponents to pull out a third-set tie break, the very last thing I’m thinking about is who they voted for in November.
And off the court? At the tournament, between matches, we catch up with each other’s lives. Nearly all on the team are mother-women who tend to their husbands, children and grands. They share stories both joyful and heart-breaking, the likes of which reveal a profound level of sacrifice and care they just seem to take in stride. Most are current or retired professionals, in high school and college teaching, nursing, real estate, and business. Occasionally, politics will creep in, but ever so fleetingly and ever so briefly. Perhaps, some may argue, we should have a conversation about HB2 or the Muslim ban or so-called Trigger Warnings and Safe Spaces. But that would leave time for little else, the chapters in our lives that do not make the evening news, or the 24-hour news cycle, or, like an infectious disease, go viral.
The real magic for us happens on the court. We, this disparate group of women, do, as Toni Morrison says, something “appropriately and well.” We win. And win. And win. Though we did not take the Sectionals trophy back to North Carolina this time, we were runners-up. We set aside our differences when doing so has become for our country increasingly pie-in-the-sky, even shockingly prohibitive. Perhaps therein lies the nature of our success, of a championship team, or, by extension, a truly great nation.