April 2009

Banana Open Junior Challenge

Author: Samantha Oppenheimer

A large banana has been sighted around Hilton Head Island and Bluffton. Hard at work promoting next month’s Banana Open Junior Challenge tennis event, the banana visited local high school tennis teams and even went to a party or two. It is fitting that the promotion has been light- hearted and wacky, because this tournament is all about kids playing tennis in a fun, family-oriented atmosphere. The third annual event, set for May 1-3, is sponsored by Hilton Head Preparatory School’s Moms for Research and hosted by Friends of the Children and the Palmetto Dunes Tennis Center. All proceeds from the weekend will benefit the Charles P. Darby Research Institute at MUSC in Charleston.
Friends of the Children is a local charitable organization that works to increase our community’s awareness of the resources at the MUSC Children’s Hospital. One of its members, Kelly Ruhlin, was inspired to organize the fundraising tennis tournament because her 12-year-old son, Zach, has a rare kidney disease. “We are really lucky. Zach is doing great, so my focus is on encouraging research. We want to support the doctors who are going to find new treatments and cures for these diseases,” said Ruhlin. “A junior tennis tournament was the perfect way to promote awareness and raise a little money. The kids enjoy playing because they have a true love of the sport and they know they are supporting a great cause.”
When Ruhlin faced the daunting challenge of finding a $5,000 title sponsor for this year’s event, she was surrounded by friends who wanted to help. A group of 50 moms at Hilton Head Preparatory School joined together to form HHP Moms for Research. Each woman donated one hundred dollars, and the group is this year’s title sponsor. “In a tough economy, five thousand dollars is a lot of money to ask of one person but, as they say, many hands lighten the load. We were so happy to join together to sponsor this event,” said Susan Ochsner, one of the group’s organizers. “It really is a great example of the compassion and caring that is seen throughout our community.” Other key sponsors are Lawton Stables, BB&T, and Omega Graphics Direct, she added. One group of Prep parents was so excited about the Junior Banana Open that they dressed as bananas at a costume party held by the school.
Of course the fundraising is important, but there is much more to this event. Most important is the tennis tournament. There are both boys’ and girls’ singles in novice and tournament levels and six age brackets. By separating the novice players and the more experienced tournament level players, the weekend promises to hold a little something for everyone. While the tournament is not a USTA sanctioned event offering ranking points, there are many strong players who participate because it is a fun, community event with plenty of good competition. For the novice player, this tournament is a great way to “taste” competition in a very non-threatening environment.
The fun begins Friday night, May 1, with a player party. All of the activities and matches are held at the Palmetto Dunes Tennis Center. With 25 tennis courts, the facility can easily host this large group. Dinner is provided by Jim
’N Nick’s B-B-Q and an adult/child round robin follows. The round robin follows a fun format and is separate from the singles matches. A “mini clinic” for four to six year olds is also planned for Friday night. Some of the singles matches will begin Friday afternoon, with most of them being played Saturday and Sunday. Lunch is provided for players on Saturday and Sunday by Truffles Café.
In addition to the tennis, the weekend is packed with fun activities that can be enjoyed by players and their families, as well as spectators. During the weekend there will be face painting, banana splits and a silent auction. Much of the manpower for these activities is provided by teenagers who volunteer their time. The big banana is sure to make an appearance, too!
Jackie Reynecke at the Palmetto Dunes Tennis Center serves as the tournament director. She organizes the players and oversees the matches. “This is geared for everybody to come out and enjoy fair play and good sportsmanship. It is very family-oriented and fun for the players and the spectators,” said Reynecke. “We are proud that Friends of the Children allows us to host this event. It is personally fulfilling for all of us to participate in the weekend.

For registration details and more information contact Palmetto Dunes Tennis Center at (843)785-1152 or e-mail Jackie@palmettodunes.com . The entry deadline is Sunday, April 26.

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