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Middlebury tennis club readies for upcoming tournament

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury Indoor Tennis (MIT) and Sojo Tennis this weekend will host a tennis tournament to assist a Vermont organization that supports cancer survivors and their families.
All tennis players — not just MIT members — are invited to take part in the Tennis Tournament to Benefit the Vermont Cancer Survivor Network, which will feature doubles play in a fun, three-day competition.
Tennis is often considered a life-long sport, one that people can pick up anytime throughout their lives. MIT organizers and representatives from VCSN see this tournament as a great union, communicating a dedication to life-long well-being through a supportive hobby that both is fun and supports your health.
Franz Collas, who is MIT’s head tennis professional and Sojo Tennis owner and coach, is leading the tournament with Heather Potter, program administrator and a tennis enthusiast at the club.
Over this past summer, Collas and Potter were looking for a charitable cause around which to build a public tournament. Middlebury Indoor Tennis had not run an open tournament for over five years and it seemed like a good time to put something together, they said.
“We know there’s a lot of tennis being played out there, but it can be really difficult to get people to participate in a tournament,” Collas said. “So we wanted to be able to connect it to a great cause that really got people out and excited.”
Around the same time, representatives from Susan G. Komen’s Rally for the Cure, a national breast cancer awareness and prevention organization, contacted MIT to see if it was interested in hosting a tournament to support their cause.
“It is a great organization and certainly got us thinking on the right track,” Potter said, “but as we looked into Rally for the Cure and learned more about the organization, we felt we could find a better fit for our club.”
Potter and Collas as well as David and Eleanor Ignat, who have run MIT since it opened in 2001, believed that the tournament should be run such that 100 percent of the money raised from the event could be donated to a local nonprofit organization.
The Vermont Cancer Survivor Network was therefore identified as an organization that the event leaders were comfortable supporting and working with for the tournament. At least for the first year, the organizers were committed to relying exclusively on donations to host the tournament and therefore being able to donate every dollar raised in the tournament back to VCSN, said Potter.
VCSN is a statewide organization that was founded in 2007 by cancer survivors with a mission to provide supportive programs, information and education for cancer patients, survivors and their support networks throughout Vermont. Kindred Connections is a social network run through the VCSN with meeting groups in several communities around the state.
Cancer patients and their friends and family can use these networks as resources for questions and peer support throughout their diagnosis and treatment.
Sherry Rhynard, program director at VCSN, is thrilled to be partnering with MIT for the tournament.
“We started the Kindred Connections program in Addison County about a year ago and have been looking for ways to expand our network in Addison County,” she said. “As a small organization that relies primarily on grassroots support, we were very excited when the organizers from MIT came to us with the idea for this tournament.”
One of the principal messages that VCSN advocates to cancer survivors as well as family members and support people is to continue engaging in physical activity throughout the periods of illness as well as through the rehabilitation process.
“When someone is diagnosed with cancer everyone around them is affected,” Rhynard said. “It has a ripple effect.”
Rhynard is a cancer survivor herself and is a caretaker for her husband, who also has struggled with cancer diagnoses. She lost both her mother and her father to the disease.
“I am someone who has dealt with cancer very closely for a long time, and I understand many of the support systems that we’re working to establish for cancer survivors and their networks at Kindred Connections and the VCSN,” Rhynard said.
She said that prior to her cancer diagnosis she had always considered herself a very healthy person.
But following her diagnosis she had to establish a new awareness of fitness and health in her life.
“Tennis is a great activity because it helps to reduce stress and build social connections as well as provide physical exercise,” she said. “It helps promote a balanced lifestyle, which is really important for anyone facing cancer.”
The tournament will take place over three days, starting on Friday, Oct. 24, and finishing on Sunday, Oct. 26. The goal is to have four flights of eight teams in the tournament. All matches are doubles matches and are categorized by “A” and “B” levels for both women and men, according to USTA guidelines.
“Even for those not playing, it’s going to be a great event,” said Potter, who has organized food and beverage donations, door prizes and an address to tournament players and supporters from David Cranmer, the current president and co-founder of the Vermont Cancer Survivor Network, that will take place at 11 a.m. on Saturday.
If all goes as planned, with 32 teams each paying an entry fee of $50 per team, the tournament should be able to raise about $1,600 for the VCSN in entry fees alone.
The support for the upcoming VCSN Tennis Tournament has been inspiring, said Potter. “Donations and support from community business owners have been amazing, and it seems like players are looking forward to an opportunity to do what they love for a great cause.”
Potter and Collas said they hope that the tournament attracts the frequent players they know and recognize from MIT’s club, as well as those who may live a little further out of town or who aren’t seen as frequently on their courts. They hope that this will bring exposure not just to the cause but also to the sport of tennis and MIT as a community resource.
“But in the end, this is not about you or who you’re playing with or how great your game is that day,” Collas said. “The point is playing tennis for the benefit of the VCSN and that’s what we’re all most excited about for this day.”
For more information or to sign up for the tournament, contact Franz Collas at 802 388-3733, 802-349-7794, or [email protected]; or go online to www.middleburytennis.com/15pdfs/VCSN.pdf.

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