EASTHAM — The Outer Cape Stripers are about three weeks away from competing in the United States Tennis Association (USTA) National Invitational tournament in Orlando, Fla. This will be their fourth year in a row to make the tournament. But this year there’s a problem — the team’s practice facility is closed.
The Stripers are a local squad of men age 65 and over who normally practice and play at Willy’s Gym in Eastham throughout the year. But Willy’s has been closed since Dec. 12 for health and safety violations and there is no timetable for the facility’s reopening. (See related story on page 1.)
“It’s been a fly in the ointment for preparing for nationals,” said Jim Bisceglia, captain of the 13-man team.
The Stripers compete in a Cape Cod tennis league that’s affiliated with the USTA. The season runs through the summer, when the team plays against two opponents, one from the Mid-Cape Athletic Club in Yarmouth and one from Plymouth. The Stripers have won their league championship for five years in a row and have been champions of the New England sectionals for the last four years.
“Willy’s is our home court,” said Bisceglia. For the last few weeks the team has tried to schedule practice time at Mid-Cape in Yarmouth, but it hasn’t been easy. That club gives priority to its year-round members. Meanwhile, other tennis players from the Outer Cape have been trying to find court time with Willy’s closed, creating a crunch at Mid-Cape. “A lot of people are playing at Mid-Cape now,” Bisceglia said. “They’re booked solid.”
The distance to Yarmouth adds to the challenge, he said. “For me, living in Truro, Willy’s is 13 miles away but Mid-Cape is 36 miles away.”
The Stripers aren’t the only tennis lovers who have been affected by Willy’s closing. The gym has six indoor courts and four outdoor courts. A large community of players regularly use Willy’s throughout the year.
In addition to the Stripers there are two USTA women’s teams that play and practice there: the Willy’s Steamers and the Nauset Lights. The Steamers are a 55-and-over team and the Lights are age 65 and over.
Anne Sigsbee, a member of the Steamers, said the team won its Cape Cod league and will be playing in the New England Sectionals this summer. If the team wins, it will then compete in the USTA National Invitational.
Of the 13 members of the Stripers, 11 will be traveling to Orlando for the invitational that runs Feb. 7 to 9. In order to reach the nationals a team has to win its sectional tournament. There are 17 regions and each region sends a team, Bisceglia said. A random draw at the beginning of the tournament determines the schedule; each team plays four of the 16 other teams on clay courts.
The Stripers finished third overall two years ago.
“Last year we didn’t do quite as well,” Bisceglia said, “but this year we have a stronger team. There are a lot of good tennis players on the Outer Cape.”
“We’re going to win,” said Peter Weinman, another team member. “We have the best lineup we’ve ever had.”
Bisceglia noted that it’s not just tennis players who have been affected by the gym’s closing. Other community members use the fitness center or take yoga classes, families host birthday parties there, and many use the swimming pool, including the Nauset Regional High School swim teams.
“Tennis is a big part of Willy’s but it’s not the only use,” he said. Referring to Willy’s owner, he added, “I certainly hope whatever hurdles Barbara Niggel needs to overcome, that she is able to do it.”
With no timetable for the gym reopening, the Stripers will have to practice elsewhere for the next few weeks, but the team members hope to get back to their old routine.
“I’m fairly optimistic it will reopen,” Bisceglia said.