I Can’t Join the Tennis Team

The “Season of Sports” continues! What has been the role of competitive sports in your life? Comment! Or better yet, send me your stories to publish. See guidelines here.

By Joan Collins

As told to Sarah White at a story capture event for A Fund For Women’s book, What She Said.

Collins_JoanI’m a tennis player, and when I was in high school in the late 1950s, I wanted to be on the team—but there were no girls’ teams. I heard the coach over the PA system say, “anybody who wants to try out for the team…” and I noted that he said anybody. He didn’t say any boy. I couldn’t wait to get up there after classes ended.

When I got there, he said, “This is the boys’ team.”

I said, “I think I can hit the ball just as well as some of the boys I’ve seen play tennis.”

And he said, “You can’t be on the team.” And I said “Why?”

He said “WIAA rules.” and I said, “I won’t sweat and I won’t use the locker rooms, I’ll just play the game.”

He said, “Well, if you can beat the number two seed, come back and I’ll let you be on the team.” He meant it as a joke. But even if he said it as a joke, I didn’t get it as a joke. I only heard the words. So I practiced and practiced and actually did go out and play the singles number two seed. He never knew why. I beat him—barely, but I did. The next day, I couldn’t wait to tell the coach, “Guess what I did!” The coach—in front of everybody, I’ll never forget it—he just turned white. “You didn’t actually think I was serious?”

I thought how do I hold back the tears? I can’t cry. I have to hold back the tears. And I said, “Yes, I’m ready to be on the team.”

Well of course it could not and did not happen. As a consolation, he said he’d give me six one-hour lessons on how to play chess. I didn’t learn how to play chess. But whenever I see a chess set I think back to that.

Just last year I was playing tennis on some public courts where the Edgewood High School team was practicing. They were waiting for their coach and kind of complaining. They’re on their cell phones. And I thought do they realize how I would have loved to do that? I went over to the four that were closest and told my little story. Three of them rolled their eyes but the fourth one got it. Later when I left, she came up and thanked me. And then the coach invited me to practice with the team for the rest of the season!

Tennis continues to be a passion for Joan Collins, founder and owner of Joan Collins Publicity, Inc.. She plays competitive singles tennis several times a week,  with many male opponents. She was the first woman to write a column for the sports section of the Wisconsin State Journal-Tennis Talk in the summer and Ski Scoop in the winter. 

When she started playing racquetball, she signed up for a men’s league under the name J. Collins and by the time the matches were scheduled, it was “too late” to be kicked off because she was a woman. She decided not to “ask questions about gender.” She had many great matches with men,  plus opened up  league play to other women who wanted to compete with men. 

Joan Collins can be reached at Jpublicity@aol.com or (608) 222-2899. www.JoanCollinsPublicity.com

What She Said, the book created for the 20th anniversary of AFFW,  includes stories from 70 women about their experiences navigating career and family life as a woman. To get your own copy of What She Saidcontact Melinda Heinritz at affw@madisoncommunityfoundation.org or (608) 262-1763.

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About first person productions

My blog "True Stories Well Told" is a place for people who read and write about real life. I’ve been leading life writing groups since 2004. I teach, coach memoir writers 1:1, and help people publish and share their life stories.
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