By Mike Kays
Phoenix Sports Editor
It’s been a good week for Dice Dawson.
The organizer of his own local tennis tournament just wrapped up his 23rd year and in the process, witnessed a fresh revival in a tournament that dwindled to a mere handful of competitors just a few years ago.
Forty competitors (30 adult, 10 juniors) took part. That’s not bad considering that it reached a low of 20 in 2001, according to numbers he shared. In his first year, 1989, he had 40 juniors and 70 adults.
After this year’s turnout, and sponsorships, a climb in that direction may be possible.
Dawson and people like youth camp organizer Tommy Twine are warriors in keeping rec tennis alive in Muskogee, and Dawson’s tennis event has long been an instrument of that. He’s shifted it around the calendar, playing it in May, June, July, August, September and October. He’s had “celebrity” tournaments featuring local TV personalities, and this past week, it was an “international” tournament with Tijana Skalusevic from Belgrade, Serbia, taking part. She won the 5.0 singles title.
Dawson explains, “While rehearsing for the play Nanyehi in Tahlequah, I played tennis at Tahlequah High School and met Jacob Enos who knows Tijana. She played at NSU and is now finishing college.”
Micah Lemoine, former No. 1 singles player at Muskogee High, flew in from Peoria, Ill., to play. Another former No. 1 at MHS, Stephen Knight, played and won men’s 5.0 singles. Tanner Epperson, 16, of Wagoner played his first-ever tennis tournament, having picked up the sport after he injured his back playing football, Dawson noted.
Jon Kolb (State Farm) and Jay Callavan (Trucks for You) were first-time players. Charlie’s Chicken, Walmart, Howe Law Firm, Ernie’s Pharmacy, John Kolmer and Bret Smith were new sponsors.
“With all the new interest I’m excited for 2014,” Dawson said.
Perseverance pays off.
Got an email or two about last week’s OSSAA rankings in fastpitch softball miffed about how Fort Gibson, with two wins in a week against Hilldale, still trailed the Lady Hornets?
Hilldale, which took the first game in the three meetings this year in August, has remained No. 1 for four weeks now. Fort Gibson moved up one spot from the week before, with six more voters (22-16) voting Hilldale No. 1.
I’d have swapped the two myself, but it’s the coaches that voted. Forty-one in all. Problem is there’s 60, meaning 19 chose not to. The rankings work as well as the participation, which was enough of a problem with 5A and 6A that they suspended rankings a couple of polls into the season.
Of course, 5A and 6A have football-like districts of seven or eight teams each and the place determines your playoff spot. Which is as it should be in all sports.
In Hilldale’s defense, the Lady Hornets’ strength of schedule has probably caught some attention — Sand Springs, Edmond North (twice), 4A No. 1 Tuttle, Yukon (twice), Westmoore, and overall, 13 games against ranked 6A-4A foes. Fort Gibson has had 11 games against ranked foes but none were 6A.
At least this, too, can be settled on the field should both teams win their regionals in two weeks.
Along with 6A-3 champ Muskogee, 5A-3 leader Tahlequah, 3A No. 1 Sequoyah, and Oktaha, hanging in the fifth spot in 3A, there could be a heavy state representation at the state tournaments later this month. Three others, Checotah in 4A, Warner in 2A and Porum in A, are also posting impressive seasons, Checotah’s best in at least a decade.
Regionals for A-3A are this week as are districts in 4A. Regionals in 6A-4A are next week. All state tournaments this year for softball will be at The Ballfields at Firelake in Shawnee. ASA Hall of Fame Complex is undergoing renovations.
Volleyball? Sequoyah looks to be the best of the area, ranked No. 4 in 4A. Tahlequah is tied for seventh in 5A. It’s been a long time since 4A semifinalist Okay wasn’t mentioned in that equation.
As for football, you’ll have to wait until next week for our midterm grades.