For the past 38 years, Labor Day Weekend has featured the annual Hal Wagner Memorial Tennis Tournament at Rafael Racquet Club. It’s not happening in 2020 due to COVID-19.
Marin League, a longtime staple of local women’s tennis, has already canceled its entire 2020-21 season. The Sonoma Napa Marin Women’s Tennis League has also called off its fall and winter seasons.
Heck, even USTA Northern California announced on Aug. 29 that it will not offer league play for the rest of 2020.
What’s a tennis player to do?
Well, Lisa Trusheim has a suggestion that’s been percolating since 2012. Her answer to COVID-19 is for players to sign up for her PlayTennisMarin, the self-scheduling, round-robin format for singles and doubles.
PlayTennisMarin offers competitive match play for every level from 2.5-5.0, with divisions for men’s and women’s singles, men’s and women’s doubles, and mixed doubles. All ages are welcome. The enrollment fee is $75 for singles and $50 per player for doubles. PlayTennisMarin provides partners for those who want to play doubles but don’t have a partner.
“We’re the only competitive league right now,” says Trusheim. “When I started PlayTennisMarin, I didn’t belong to a club. I thought there must be other people like me who are looking for a network of players for fun, friendly competition. Now, people want to make sure they have a spot. They want to make sure they have competitive tennis.”
Trusheim reports that she had her most robust signups ever for PlayTennisMarin’s August-September session, with nearly 200 players. And the response has been equally fervent for the October-November session, which will mark the 50th round of PlayTennisMarin.
“People are itching to get out,” says Trusheim. “When COVID hit, many tennis players were in this weird kind of daze. Clubs shut down. Tennis courts were locked. It was devastating.”
Unfortunately, PlayTennisMarin hasn’t been immune to COVID, either. Although she tried to run the April-May session, Trusheim was forced to cancel. It was the only session since the league’s inception eight years ago that didn’t run. Then, she only offered singles play for the June-July session because doubles play wasn’t permitted anywhere. Even doubles players were thrilled to have an option to compete and turnout was high.
With people jonesing for competitive tennis, the current August-September session hit an all-time high, accounting for a 14-percent jump in signups compared to the same period a year ago. PlayTennisMarin has also exploded beyond county borders to include players from San Francisco, Sonoma, Napa and the East Bay.
“Outdoor exercise is one of the healthiest and safest things you can do,” says Trusheim. “The feedback has been great. Team matches have limitations, but PlayTennisMarin has a flexible schedule. It works, especially now during COVID.”
Christa Keeling, a 78-year-old from Tiburon, has played in every session of PlayTennisMarin. Primarily a singles player, Keeling was a co-founder of Marin Open Singles and Marin Open Doubles, considered the precursor to PlayTennisMarin in the ‘80s and early ‘90s.
“Lisa does a fabulous job,” says Keeling. “I shouldn’t say this, but at first we thought she snitched our idea. I quickly realized she runs it so much better.
“She always has new players,” Keeling added. “I don’t know where she gets all the players.”
Besides her love of tennis, and emergence as one of the most competitive singles players in the county, Trusheim has a penchant for marketing. The 53-year-old from Tiburon majored in marketing at San Diego State and ran a successful computer exposition business for 16 years before taking up tennis and creating PlayTennisMarin.
To launch PlayTennisMarin, Trusheim did some serious research, which included interviews with local club pros and queries among her circle of tennis friends. “It just grew from there,” she says.
Lisa Berg, tennis director at Rafael Racquet Club, knows firsthand how PlayTennisMarin impacts the sport locally. For example, PlayTennisMarin helps sponsor events like Berg’s popular Hal Wagner tournament, allowing Trusheim to give back to the community and get in front of the county’s top players.
Berg also recommends PlayTennisMarin to new club members seeking to expand their circle.
“I think she’s done a great job — we’ve had a lot of club members play,” says Berg. “I’m always trying to help people play more, getting them outside their box of players they usually play with.
Keeling says that if she didn’t sign up for a PlayTennisMarin session, she would miss it. She gets to visit other clubs where she isn’t a member, and it helps to keep her game sharp — even during COVID. (Note: Some Marin tennis clubs are closed to guests at this time.)
Four times a year, PlayTennisMarin hosts a tennis party for participants. Keeling is a regular there, too. Keeling points out that if you win your division, you get a $100 gift card from Tennis Warehouse, which more than pays for the entry fee. “It’s very inspiring to do well,” jokes Keeling.
“Session Socials” — as Trusheim refers to her tennis parties — take place at various Marin restaurants. She has goodie bags for participants, complimentary food, and a melting pot of players from different levels —something most leagues can’t offer even when they’re running.
Trusheim will be hosting a socially distant drop-in for next month’s “Session Social” since people can’t gather in person. That small inconvenience hasn’t seemed to affect signups, however.
“I think people are going to be aware of PlayTennisMarin beyond COVID,” says Trusheim. “People see PlayTennisMarin as a supplement to their social tennis calendar. It’s a great way to play fun, friendly, competitive tennis at dates and times that work for people’s lifestyles. And in these times, that is priceless.
“I am planning to replicate the concept in other areas. I believe we have developed a great model that can work anywhere, especially in California where we can play all year around.”
PlayTennisMarin COVID Safety Tips
Preparing to Play
- Wash your hands with soap and water (for 20 seconds or longer), or use a hand sanitizer if soap and water are not readily available, before going to the court.
- Clean and wipe down your equipment, including racquets and water bottles. Do not share racquets or any other equipment such as wristbands, grips, hats and towels.
- Bring a full water bottle to avoid touching a tap or water fountain handle.
- Use new balls and a new grip, if possible.
- When not actively playing, please adhere to all proper personal protective equipment (PPE) and face mask protocols.
- If you need to sneeze or cough, do so into a tissue or upper sleeve.
- Arrive as close as possible to when you need to be there.
- Avoid touching court gates, fences, benches, etc., if you can.
- Try to stay at least six feet apart from other players. Do not make physical contact with them (such as shaking hands or a high-five).
- Avoid touching your face after handling a ball, racquet or other equipment. Wash your hands promptly if you have touched your eyes, nose or mouth.
- Use your racquet/foot to pick up balls and hit them to your opponent. Avoid using your hands to pick up the balls. Remain apart from other players when taking a break.
- When playing doubles, coordinate with your partner to maintain physical distancing.
- Avoid sharing food, drinks or towels.
- Maintain physical distancing if changing ends of the court.
- If a ball from another court comes to you, send it back with a kick or with your racquet.
- Leave the court as soon as reasonably possible.
- Wash your hands thoroughly or use a hand sanitizer after coming off the court.
- Do not use the locker room or changing area. Shower at home.
- No extra-curricular or social activity should take place. No congregation after playing.
- All players should leave the facility immediately after play.