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by Jim Provenzano
Bay Area Reporter
May 2003

"The fact was that tennis - he said, giving careful emphatic judgement - was an art as well as a sport, and like all the arts, took special talent, a certain 'natural class.' In fact, without it, you were just no good. You'd be hopeless for the rest of your life."

- Georgio Bassini, The Garden of the Finzi-Continis

A stern analysis of athletic excellence in difficult times, Bassani's novel is set in the 1930s, when fascists, having banned Jews from playing in their clubs, even harass them for holding private tennis matches in their own back yard.

These days, gay people can play tennis almost anywhere without much harassment (unless they're playing Goran Ivanisevic or Jelena Dokic's father. The two are among the few in the elegant sport to mouth off homophobically).

Fortunately, the world of tennis has more than a few out players. Locally, regionally, and globally, thousands more play out and proud, with a lot more class than the previously mentioned "athletes."

The San Francisco Gay & Lesbian Tennis Federation sent almost 20 racqueteers to Sydney's Gay Games VI, and they racked up quite a few medals.

The GLTF encourages the sport of tennis through organized competitive and social events for the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender communities throughout the Bay Area. The not-for-profit organization was founded in 1979 and has an active membership of 250+ tennis enthusiasts.

They hosted the United States Gay Open May 22 - May 26 at courts around San Francisco. Some of the tennis players who competed in medaled in Sydney also be played in May at the USGO.

George Torrellas competed in Sydney in B level in singles, and A doubles, paired by Kevin Ware.

He and Ware have been doubles partners for about year. Torellas has been playing since childhood.

Raised in Southern California's Walnut Diamond Bar area, near Anaheim, he played high school and some college at Cal State Long Beach.

"I wasn't out to my team at all then," he said, "or to any of the players, but I definitely was 'living the lifestyle.'" He stopped playing for almost eight years, saying he was "kind of burnt out" on tennis.

After moved to San Francisco seven years ago, the 36-year-old Torrellas said, "It was time to get back. It was something that I really missed and that I love. Once I did, I found my old form again. I definitely feel great about where I'm at now."

He should. With 175 men in his draw, last year's Games got him a bronze in B division men's category.

Along with Americans, British, Australian, Germans, and Dutch players predominated, but he said that San Francisco had a large contingent.

"We have a strong tennis community, probably one of the largest represented." Bay Area players had a GLTF coordinator who kept track of who was going.

In Sydney, Torrellas recalls that "there was so much friendship, very team-oriented," and that he enjoyed a lot of support, "Especially being in that medal round knowing they were cheering me on was inspiring."

His playing continues to be a family affair, since his father taught him. Family and friends stateside were keeping track of his success on the web site.

Torrellas also was sponsored by two companies, Yonex and Adidas. He?s also in the US Tennis Association, where he was ranked #7 in California's B Division.

He competing with Kevin Ware in doubles, and won A level in singles.

"You have to work very hard to win at that level." He's keeping up with his renewed accomplishments.

"When you come back with a medal, the expectation's even higher. I have more expectations for myself. It's definitely a sport for a lifetime."

Dance fans may recognize Kevin Ware from his acclaimed work performing with ODC (Oberlin Dance Collective) for eight years, from 1991 - 1999. He toured all over the world with the modern dance company.

He also created his own choreography, and is thinking about a stage comeback in a work by Robert Moses.

Originally from Cleveland, Ware is now a webmaster and graphic designer whose current work includes the design and maintenance of the tennis team's site. To help the team grow, he added online membership payments and a searchable database.

"We made a concerted effort to get more members, and we accomplished our goal," Ware said.

Ware easily converted his terpsichorean dexterity to the tennis courts, and competed in the A men's category in Sydney. He said he should have been in B grade, but it was full.

"I paid dearly for it in the first round," he said.

While upper level competition took place in Olympic Park, competition was held in courts all over the city. Matches for B and C players were held on a set of courts were very far from Olympic Park, and far from excellent in quality.

"They were turf with sand sprinkled on it," said Ware. "It was like playing on a dirty carpet."

Nevertheless, Ware and his doubles partner George Torrellas won the bronze in Men's B singles.

Asked about the competition, Ware said, "When you play up you hope to be beaten by somebody good. But this guy lobbed me like crazy."

In doubles, his racquet broke. "That one game, I held on. And we won."

Ware hopes to play A grade for Montreal's Gay Games VII. And he'll be sure to bring a spare racquet.

Bobby Docena won mixed doubles in A level tennis in 1982, at the first Games, and twenty years later, he won the men's A doubles Gold with teammate Henry Kim.

The 38-year-old San Francisco native started playing sports at Everett Middle School and McAteer High School.

"I played in track and field and saw his friends playing tennis at Dolores Park, I never returned. I'm fast, so I thought, 'I can get those balls.'"

Docena was out in school, and suffered none of the expected problems.

"I had a lover in high school," he said. "I was lucky, so I had my sports, too. I didn't get into the experience of guys messing with you when you're gay."

Playing at the Olympic Park facility in Sydney still had a prestige for the self-described "volley top. I don't play like a nellie thing," Docena joked. "My game is aggressive and I'm not a baseline bottom!"

Out of a 128 draw, Docena lasted through quarterfinals.

A draw of 64 teams in doubles led to six hard-fought matches, leading up to the final medal round, where he and Henry Kim played the Sydney team.

"We were actually down 1-6, 3-5, 30-40," said Docena. "One more point and they would have won. A lot of people were applauding, plus we were playing the Sydney team, so it was pretty exciting."

Henry Kim played singles and doubles at the Memorial Day Weekend USGO, and in Sydney.

Kim started playing tennis as a kid with father in Los Angeles. He played for his high school team and later took courses, but the GLTF was the first league in which played a more active role.

"Thrilled and elated" to have won with partner Bobby Docena, he's definitely looking forward to Montreal.

"It's really unique, in the gay world," he said. "If you think about it, aside from that you basically have to qualify for the real Olympics."

Kim has competed in the USGO and at local tournaments, including the Cal Cup, a tri-city tournament, similar to the Davis Cup, but on a larger scale.

With players from San Francisco, San Diego and Los Angeles, Kim said it includes the top 24 players in each club competing in a team format.

"We won last year, and we hope to win again in LA," he said.

GLTF President Steven Brown started in the Federation six years ago, but had his first tennis action 24 years ago, when he began with lessons in San Luis Opisbo.

The expected 250-300 players kept him busy Memorial Day Weekend while organizing the big annual event. Sunday morning rain delayed competition for three hours while they mopped up the courts at Golden Gate Park.

"Generally, the largest percentage of competitors are local," said Brown. "But we invite people from around the world. We do get players from London, Japan, and Australia. Our players also travel around the world to promote the league."

Monday's finals in Golden Gate Park, near Sharon Meadows, were thankfully sunny and rain-free.

Brown noted that they're also the first public courts in the country, which recently reached landmark status because several hall of fame players who competed there.

The Gay & Lesbian Tennis Federation hosted the 22nd annual USGO Memorial Day Weekend, May 24-26 in San Francisco.

Find more info, and results of the USGO, at the GLTF site or call (415) 282-1114.

Tennis Events and Bay Area Medallists from Gay Games VI:

A Grade Doubles Men
Gold: Bobbi Docena - Henry Kim

A Grade Mixed Doubles
Gold: Patrick Miller

Novice Doubles Men
Gold: Ed Aganon

Open Men's Doubles
Silver: Kerry Mitchell

B Grade Singles Men
Silver: Adam Berman

A Grade Singles Men
Bronze: Dewey Tong

35+ Mixed Doubles
Bronze: Diane Slowiejko - Pete Torres

65+ Men's Singles
Bronze: Thad Trela

A Grade Doubles Men
Bronze: Bijan Ahmadzadeh - Patrick Miller

B Grade Singles Men
Bronze: George Torrellas

C Grade Doubles Men
Bronze: Ken Poole - Keith Wall
Bronze: Paul Sportelli

35+ Men's Doubles
Bronze: Darryl Hubbard