For the Love of the Game

WHEELING – Bill Pilardi greeted his friend with a hug, then kindly offered her his towel.

He had, after all, worked up a bit of a sweat in the distinct Wheeling afternoon late-spring heat, beating Wheeling’s Chris Freeman 6-1, 6-0 in his first-round match at the Jack Dorsey Memorial Senior Open Tennis Tournament at Oglebay Park.

The game is coming back around for the McMurray, Pa., teaching pro, who qualified for and won several matches in the Senior World Championships two weeks ago in Florida.

“I took some time off for a while, didn’t enter as many tournaments as I had in the past, because I was busy working,” Pilardi said. “Prior to the Worlds, I really trained. I had to win two qualifiers just to get in, and after I did that I worked hard.”

He lost his first match but did manage to win a few coming back through the consolation rounds.

Not surprisingly, Pilardi once made a living playing tennis, playing on several satellite tours, including an eight-year stretch in France where he said he didn’t make the big dollars “but I made enough to make a living out of it for awhile.”

Despite his status coming off his first appearance in the World Championships, and a former pro of sorts, Pilardi is the norm when it comes to the Jack Dorsey Memorial Senior Open.

“Basically, I do it because I still love the game and I still love competing,” said Pilardi, a former Penn State tennis player who is now the tennis pro at Peters Township Tennis Center.

In that way, he is no different from Wheeling’s own Dave Pauley.

“Basically, it is a chance to play different people and I still love the game and I love to compete,” the 57-year-old Pauley said, watching some of the action before playing No. 2 seed Richard Jordan.

“Plus, it’s right here at our own facility, so why not? I’ve played at some other events, won some matches in some tournaments, and I can say this is as good an event as I’ve been to. I really enjoy the chance to play some outstanding competition.”

Pauley lost his match to Jordan, 6-3, 6-1. It was the first time he had met a seeded player in the tournament.

Pauley was a baseball player back in his high school days at Triadelphia, who picked up a racket when his diamond days ended.

Pilardi started playing with a buddy back in high school, and was bitten by the tennis bug.

John Davis, a 62-year-old real estate agent, and like Pilardi, a former Penn State tennis player, learned the game from his mother, who began taking him to local tennis courts in York, Pa., when he was 6 years old.

With age groups ranging from 35 to 85, you will find different skill levels, different ways players found the game, but the one thing that remains the singular theme is the “competition.” It still drives these players.

Davis is the top-seeded player in the 60-over and had a first-round victory against Andrew Lach, 6-4, 6-2.

“The goal is to win it,” said Davis, who has been one of the top-ranked players in his division during the course of his career. “I can’t say I will but I love to come out and compete.”

He also loves coming to Oglebay Park.

“I have been coming here for years, probably close to 30 years,” Davis said. “For me, it’s just a lot of history, from my perspective. I’ve had a lot of great times and great matches here. I’ve won some, and lost some. There will always be great competition here. That’s why we do it.”

The Jack Dorsey Memorial is a Category 2 national tournament. Category 1 is considered a level of competition higher, though many of these players also compete in Category 1 tournaments.

For perspective, there is only one Category 1 national tournament on a clay court.