DERRY — In 1991, Derry was stunned as one of its most beloved athletes passed away from leukemia, which had been previously undiagnosed. Tennis champion Dana Ball's spirit and positive attitude, on and off the court, were remembered this month at Pinkerton Academy with the 17th Dana Ball Love Tennis Tournament.
Ball's influence in the community was strong. Between instructing local youths in tennis, running the Boston Marathon, and winning the Derryfest Men's Doubles Tournament with his brother, Darren, he was widely considered a generally great guy to be around. It didn't take much encouragement for the community to get involved in the effort to do something in his memory.
The tournament began in 1992. Each year, proceeds from the event go to cancer victims and cancer research through the event's charity partner organization, the Derry Village Rotary Club. Over time, the Dana Ball Love Tournament has become Southern New Hampshire's premier charity event, according to tournament director John Pelkey. The tournament boasted 159 players in 2007.
Among the more notable wins this year was that of Todd Cuthbert and Mike Besser in Men's doubles. It was Cuthbert, with his then-partner Jeremy Dellova, who lost to Ball and his brother in Derryfest 1991, shortly before his passing. According Pelkey, it was an emotional moment for Cuthbert.
Cassie Burbine, 13, and Bethany Huard came from behind in their third set to clinch the title in women's doubles, defeating Kelly Murphy and Ali McKinney. All four athletes hail from Londonderry. It was Huard's second straight doubles crown, having won the title last year with McKinney. Mckinney was going for her fourth straight doubles chamopionship, having won the previous three with three different partners, including including Murphy in 2007 and Huard in 2008.
Cassie Burbine also secured the title in the Girls' 15U adding to the Burbine tournament legacy. Cassie's mother, Patrice; father, Skip; and brother, Alex, have all claimed titles in past Dana Ball tourneys.
"Quite the tennis family!" said Pelkey.
Harrison Max repeated as champion this year in the Men's 15U.
In a rematchof the 2008 final, Ian Hastings successfully defended his Men's Singles title, winning 4-6, 6-0, 3-4 over former champ Barry Lemire. Lemire retired with an injury while holding a 4-3 lead in the final set. It was Hastings' fourth overall Dana Ball singles title.
Devin Moore, of East Hampstead, took the title in the Boys' 12U.
The most prestigious trophy presented at the Dana Love Tournament is original, if not a bit unorthodox. The "Love Bear", a large stuffed bear, is presented to a player who approaches the game of tennis as Dana embraced the game of life, playing for the love of the game with a "never give up attitude," according to Pelkey. It is in memory of a poem that Dana's brother Doug wrote for the funeral which referred to Dana as "a great big Teddy Bear." Each recipient of Dana's Love Bear also has his name engraved on Love Bear's jumbo racket with a heart stencil on the strings.
This trophy is given, according to Pelkey, to a player who approaches the game of tennis as Dana embraced the game of life. This player should have qualities that make him a person who is fun to play with or against, enjoys playing for the love of the game, has a "never give up" attitude, and displays good sportsmanship win or lose. Dana's parents choose an adult and junior competitor each year to receive a bear.Each recipient has his or her name engraved on the Love Bear's jumbo racket.
This year's bear winners were Brian Hashem from Manchester, Ali McKinney from Londonderrry, Alex Roman from Derry, and Ann Marie Pinard from Derry for Men's Women's Boys' and Girls' respectively.