Hoos on top of tennis world

You are aware, of course, that the University of Virginia’s tennis players are killing it, as they say.

How so?

The men last spring won their second NCAA title in a row and their third in four years. Women’s star Danielle Collins, who just happened to lose today in her first U.S. Open as a pro, won her second NCAA crown. (Collins lost at the Open to Russia’s Evgeniya Rodina 1-6, 2-6. Hey, you have to start somewhere . . . )

Anyway, I wrote about the U.Va. powerhouse for the U’s alumni magazine. It follows forthwith – heavily edited from my submission, but whatever. They do with it as they wish:


THE University of Virginia continues to dominate tennis.

Coach Brian Boland’s men won their second consecutive NCAA championship this year, their third in four years. Only four other programs have repeated since 1966.

For the women, Danielle Collins (Col ’16) prevailed as this year’s NCAA singles champion, as she did in 2014, becoming the seventh woman with two national titles.

As trophies, and new recruits, continue to come its way, UVA has begun plans for a world-class tennis venue. The Board of Visitors in April discussed a preliminary proposal for a 12-court outdoor tennis stadium at the University-affiliated Boars Head Inn west of Grounds, an estimated $12 million project, the Cavalier Daily reported.

Success didn’t come overnight. Boland arrived in 2002 to take over an unranked team. In three years, he led the men to the ACC title. In six, he got them to the NCAA semifinals.

Mark Guilbeau took over a women’s program in 2005 that had hit a 15-year low. Immediately he coached the team to a top-25 ranking. UVA women’s tennis reached the NCAA quarterfinals for the second time last season.

Guilbeau’s next challenge is to replace recent graduates Collins and Julia Elbaba (Col ’16), the latter UVA’s record-holder with 133 singles victories.

“They were unbelievable,” Guilbeau says. “But we might be able to be as strong in some ways because of better depth.”

Boland says that from UVA’s academic reputation to its Charlottesville setting, he’s confident the Cavs can break through the West Coast’s dominance. UCLA, USC and Stanford own 54 national titles, but only UVA has played in five of the last six finals.

“It’s hard to build a program to the top but even harder to stay there,” says Boland, twice the national coach of the year. “It’s something we talk about all the time.”

As the record shows, UVA Tennis doesn’t just talk a good game. It also plays one.


Working the AT . . .

This was a really fun story to work on, and different for me. I shadowed the Tidewater Appalachian Trail Club for a weekend day last spring as its members performed maintenance on approximately 11 miles of that legendary woods and wilderness. I has no idea such a club existed, let alone the extent of its work.

I enjoyed meeting the people who give of themselves tirelessly to commune and connect with the natural, symphonic beauty of Virginia.

The story ran in print in the great Distinction magazine and on its website. Thanks for checking it out.


When paradise needs upkeep, the Appalachian Trail Club hikes in.

by TOM ROBINSON photography by TODD WRIGHT

They gathered at Saturday’s gray dawn, deep in Virginia’s wooded heart. Seventy-five men, women and children from the Tidewater Appalachian Trail Club clambered from tents scattered about a picnic ground near Nellysford.

Eleven miles of Appalachian Trail entrusted to their club’s care since 1973 – from Reid’s Gap to the Tye River on a map – sorely needed love.

The punch list was lengthy. Downed trees blocked the hiking path. Conduits to underground springs were dry. Covered shelters were dirty, to say nothing of their privies. White blazes on trees that mark the path needed fresh paint. Invasive garlic mustard plants were overgrown.

So the Tidewater club ate breakfast, teamed up into crews and got down to it.

Joe Turlo sawed stumps at the Maupin Field shelter area. A veteran hiker who traverses Maryland’s 40 miles of Appalachian Trail every June, he knows stump-littered shelters are downright inhospitable.

Greg Seid and Marty Vines puzzled over a dusty spring pipe in the creek bed nearby. The stream occasionally runs dry, but hikers always need fresh water. They dug through dirt and leaves to the source and installed a fresh length of PVC pipe. Water slowly began to slide from its exposed mouth.

And God love Evelyn Addington, who did privy duty. Armed with cleaning tools and enviable courage, the retired teacher swept cobwebs and made multiple treks for stream water with which to flood the floor and scrub the commode.

It shined when she was through, as best a weather-beaten outhouse can shine. And she had no complaints. When you walk or work the AT, the task becomes all-consuming.

An “intense sense of pride” motivates the 31 clubs that help maintain the rugged, 2,190-mile trail, which stretches from Georgia to Maine, says the Tidewater club’s president, Juliet Stephenson. “We don’t hold the deed, but each club feels like it owns their section.”

Appalachian Trail ClubSeven Virginia clubs pitch in to preserve and protect the world’s longest continuous hiking trail. They partner with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service and various state agencies to ensure that the trail – “its vast natural beauty and priceless cultural heritage,” according to the conservancy mission – remains open to all forever.

Tidewater’s club absorbed its stretch from two small central Virginia clubs 43 years ago. Its members are quick to note their club is the farthest removed from the trail, some 200 miles.

The maintenance crews aim to keep the trail passable “without undue difficulty,” according to the conservancy standard. As a visual, workers picture clearing space for a hiker toting a 4-by-8-sheet of plywood.

But the Tidewater members don’t just clear the Appalachian Trail. They also maintain 23 miles in the St. Mary’s Wilderness, the White Rocks Trail and the Mau-Har Trail. The latter is a three-mile side trail to the Appalachian Trail, a loop the Tidewater club built to connect its shelter areas at Maupin Field and Harpers Creek.

The Mau-Har itself provides a challenging day-hike that lures a steady flow of outdoor enthusiasts. Overcrowding, in fact, is a growing concern among trail clubs and requires their added vigilance.

“But I’d rather know the trail is being enjoyed than see it unused and unappreciated,” Stephenson says.

It was Benton MacKaye’s appreciation for nature as a human escape from urban stresses that launched the Appalachian Trail nearly a century ago. A New England regional planner and conservationist, he conceived a connected series of study and farming camps from New Hampshire to North Carolina. Other enthusiasts embraced that vision, and the trail ultimately lengthened through 14 states.

The trail’s first path was blazed in upstate New York in 1923, but the full route from Georgia’s Mount Oglethorpe to Maine’s Mount Katahdin didn’t open until 1937. The southern terminus became Springer Mountain, Georgia, in the early ’60s.

A Pennsylvanian named Earl Shaffer completed the first thru-hike in 1948. He reversed direction in 1965 and walked the trail north to south. Even then he wasn’t finished. In 1998, he did the entire journey again at age 79, four years before he died.

Of the trail’s 14 states, Virginia claims the largest swath, 544 miles, roughly a quarter of the AT. According to the conservancy, the trail draws 3 million visitors a year.

Each year, a few thousand begin thru-hikes, fueled by the canon of trail books and films, including Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods. A “walk” is not for the faint or ambivalent. The trail is taxing physically and emotionally, fraught with perilous weather, wildlife and human interaction. About half of thru-hikers quit within the first 30 miles. Only one in four completes the journey.

Conservancy ridge runners, equipped with satellite phones, are a presence in more-heavily traveled areas to lend comfort and direction. Still, hikers are known to tragically lose their way. Last fall, the remains of a female hiker who disappeared in Maine three years earlier were discovered, about a half-mile from the trail.

Pat Tilson, a thru-hiker from Deltaville, Virginia, happened upon the Tidewater workers during their labor. Stopping to chat, he was invited to the club’s camp dinner. He accepted the meal, a shower at the Sherando Lake Recreation Area and a ride back to the Harpers Creek shelter for the night.

“It’s a strange sense of community out here,” he said. “You meet people you think you’d have nothing in common with in the real world. But you sit with them in a shelter, you have no idea what their real name is, and you hear their stories – where to stay, where to avoid, did you hear what happened to Grandma? And Grandma is some guy. It’s fun.”

Tilson said he started in Pennsylvania and was attempting a flip-flop hike. Flip-floppers cover one trail segment, then drive or fly back to where they started or to the opposite terminus to complete their miles.

That’s how Stephenson did her thru-hike in 2010. She started with her sister, who abandoned the journey after 1,400 miles. Stephenson soldiered solo through the final 800.

“It changed me profoundly,” said Stephenson, a former Navy cryptographer who became a master gardener for Norfolk’s Hermitage Museum and Gardens. “I knew I couldn’t work inside anymore.”

Appalachian Trail ClubAs president, she wants to raise awareness of a club that offers far more than maintenance trips to darkest Virginia. It also clears trails locally, within First Landing State Park, False Cape State Park, New Quarter Park and Sandy Bottom Nature Park.

For $20 annual dues, it organizes a wide menu of outdoor activities, and holds seminars on such things as camping etiquette, map skills and wilderness first aid. A caveat: Eco-activists need not sign up to circulate petitions and such. The club is strictly recreational.

“Half of the people are pretty involved in environmental groups,” longtime club member Bob Adkisson says. “But you do that stuff on your own.”

His preoccupation is the stone cabin the club owns on 15 secluded acres near White Rocks Trail. It has no electricity or running water, and on a stormy night, it’s a dicey downhill walk to the privy.

But Adkisson, the cabin chairman, says the price is right: $5 a day for members who participate in maintenance. About 80 of the club’s membership of 425 are considered active.

“Hopefully we can get more young teens and 20-year-olds out here,” Stephenson says. “I think of it as planting a seed.’”

Rosanne and Douglas Cary get immediate payoff on their maintenance trips. They are certified sawyers, timber cutters trained by the forest service. Blowdowns, fallen trees that block passage, are common. The Carys, husband and wife, are among two dozen members who are certified to cut and clear timber.

Mostly, though, they do it by hand. Almost all of Tidewater’s trail mileage is designated wilderness, which the forest service vows will stay “untrammeled and free from human control.”

That means no power tools.

The Carys and their four hard-hatted colleagues faced a doozy of a chore. A huge oak had uprooted and crashed across the trail. Fallen timber isn’t automatically removed. If sawyers determine it can be stepped over without undue effort, it usually is let alone.

This one left no room for discussion. Like forensic specialists, the team surveyed the scene for ways the timber and hanging limbs might tumble.

The sawyers determined the severed trunk would roll through the path and into a standing tree. They eyed the rooted end with suspicion, however, fearing a kick. Two-person crosscut crews took arduous turns working through the trunk for 90 minutes before taking a break. Upon returning to the task, the sawyers worked another 30 minutes before Douglas Cary moved to the uphill side to cut alone and avoid being in the roll path.

At last, the trunk emitted a telltale crackle. Cary looked back to his wife: “Do you want to do the honors?”

Rosanne Cary was thrilled. She leaned into her saw as Douglas held the back of her belt for safety. When the trunk snapped and crashed, the sawyers whooped as if they had scored a touchdown.

“My legs are shaking,” she said.

The episode made for a gleeful postmortem that night at the camp’s buffet dinner. The afternoon’s drenching rain had dampened the picnic benches, but not the enthusiasm.

“I was a foo-foo girl growing up,” said Cindy Wong. “My country club ladies really don’t get this.”

A few years ago, Wong said she got a wild hair to hike in the Grand Canyon. To train, she worked out in a gym rather than practicing hiking. Big mistake.

“I lost two toenails,” she said.

That won’t happen again. The club, she said, has made her outdoors-savvy. She has even become a high-pointer, out to visit the highest point of elevation in every state.

She has 31 to go.

“I don’t have any desire to be a thru-hiker, though,” Wong said. “Three days in that woods, I gotta come out to civilization. I can only be but so hard-core.”


Two Evenings with Sir Paul

After going my entire life without seeing Paul McCartney in concert I’ve been lucky enough to attend his shows in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. in the last month. It’s a bucket-list item, and I don’t know what I really was waiting for – maybe for him to turn 80, you know — but I still needed a push from my son to get off the dime and buy the Philly tickets. He saw him at U.Va. more than a year ago and, to my surprise, raved so long about how good the show was it convinced me to make the effort. McC

We bought. We went. My impressions? Watching McCartney is like watching Mozart or somebody, if you get me. It’s like breathing in an interactive museum piece. The history spills from the stage the second you get within sight of it with videos, photos and pre-show music highlighting the span of McCartney’s career. Finally, the last chord to “A Day in the Life” sounds and everyone knows McCartney is next up, bouncing onto the stage the 74-year-old won’t leave for 2 ½ hours, having had not one sip of water.

I am obsessed with that fact: neither McCartney nor his four band members – I don’t know their names, which is something I’ll touch on in a second – drinks a thing during the show, at least in view of the audience. The band leaves during McCartney’s acoustic set, so maybe they’re chugging water in the wings. McCartney doesn’t touch a drop of anything. Is that not weird, or am I making too much of not being thirsty?

He also doesn’t introduce his players. At both shows, he thanked everybody involved with moving the huge set all across the country and world and only glossed over his band’s actual names. In Philly, as fans cheered, I think he hastily mentioned their first names, which you couldn’t hear or understand. But in D.C. he only said “those boys can play,” and moved along. I haven’t Googled the names. I guess I will at some point. They really can play. I shouldn’t have to work to figure out who’s who, though. (I saw Lyle Lovett the next night after D.C. He calls out his players multiple times per show. I liked that better.) So I don’t get that at all, although it fits my long-held sense that McCartney is overall just kind of odd. But what genius do you know who’s not odd, right?

OK, so he doesn’t drink water, and hogs the glory. What other pithy observations do I have, you ask?

  • It is impressive, to me at least, the McCartney hasn’t changed the keys in which he sings his songs, even the ones that strain his dry vocal cords. He doesn’t hit ‘em all, but he knows how to gently reach for them, and he still screams, as only he can, when the performance calls for it. No backing down.
  • Unlike, say, Springsteen, who likes to run song after song together to build or maintain the momentum, McCartney stands and theatrically accepts applause for every song. It actually gets old, and the show would be even more powerful if he mixed up that pattern. He does a great “Back in the USSR,” but then it all sits there till he slides over to the piano to do “Let It Be.” The energy would crackle and pop if he sandwiched “USSR” between “Can’t Buy Me Love” and, say, “Revolution,” (which he doesn’t perform, btw.) But what do I know?
  • He does plenty of Beatles’ tunes, though, starting with “Hard Day’s Night.” That’s where McCartney does play on the sense of excitement. The opening, clashing chord, seconds after he arrives on stage, is goosebump-worthy, and his performance of the song is strong.
  • Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think McCartney mails anything in by any means. I think he thoroughly enjoys himself on stage; at his age, why do it if not, right? But the show is completely scripted, like a Broadway play, and by all appearances leaves zero room for spontaneity, most likely because of the intricate light/video accompaniment. If you’ve seen the show more than once, it puts off an antiseptic vibe, that’s all. Don’t like that, but oh well.
  • “Temporary Secretary,” a piece of pure, techno-pap from 1980? No thank you. Ditch it, Macca! Oops, you can’t. The set is chiseled into stone. Oy.
  • OK, I Googled. Band members Brian Ray (bass and guitars), Rusty Anderson (guitars), Abe Laboriel Jr., a hulking presence on drums, and keyboardist Wix Wickens. There, was that so hard?




Way-back Machine (cont’d)

The latest in my continuing series of running across old sports columns and re-running them here, probably against all copyright rules and all that crap . . .

De-junking around the house – specifically packing up stuff in my daughter’s old room so the painter can do his thing – I found a column my kid clipped from the paper and pinned to a cork board. It is from the summer of 2006. I read it again for the first time in years. Naturally, it made me shed a tear or two of dad-love, which is what this silly column about golf is really about.

I pulled it from the archives. I hope you like it.


We Lost a Few Golf Balls — and Found Ourselves

I’m told by the PGA of America that this is “Take Your Daughter to the Course” Week.

I do what I’m told.

My 15-year-old and I drove to a golf course. We brought our Gatorades and applied our sunscreen. I reached into the trunk and fished out my clubs.

“I’m already hot and tired,” the girl said. “Just so you know.”

Did I mention that my kid doesn’t actually play golf? That she thinks golf is as stupid as pickled beets? That when she catches me watching golf, she rolls her eyes and mutters some form of, “How can you watch that?”

And that on most days she’d accept a six-hour ban from myspace.com (Editor’s note: myspace??!!) over having anything remotely to do with golf?

“I know why you want me to play golf with you,” she said with a snarky smile. “To make yourself look good for once.”

Did I mention that I love to play golf but don’t actually play real great? That I can coach some sports halfway decently, but that golf isn’t one of them? And that I had hoped my girl and I would get our nine-hole round at Lambert’s Point off to just a little better start?

It probably didn’t help that, as we left the car, I had her strap on my bag so she could get the full “caddie experience.” She took four wobbly steps toward the clubhouse.

“I’m not a mule,” she announced, and released her burden — a broad hint that walking nine was preposterously out of the question.

The cart saved the day. The girl is a few months from getting her learner’s permit. She wants to drive more than she wants unlimited text messaging.

“If I could,” she said, “I’d buy a golf cart and use it as a car.”

Things were looking up. We rented her clubs and jumped behind the wheel. First stop, the practice range, since it had been a while since I’d dragged her onto a course.

Obviously, she needed one of my easy-to-understand refreshers on the golf swing’s critical points: grip, ball positioning, posture, turning her shoulders, taking the club back, bringing it through square, shifting her weight, understanding the relationship between the length of her arms’ hypotenuse and the angle of the sun.

She sprayed a few along the ground when she didn’t miss the ball altogether.

“Why is golf always harder than it looks?” she grumped.

Sure, and I guess that’s dad’s fault, too, right?

So anyway, we started to play, because that’s what we’d by God come to do.

On the first hole, I failed miserably to coach her out of a greenside bunker — until about her sixth swipe, when she cracked a laser over the green and down a hill into Lambert’s Point’s ample gorse. Suddenly, we couldn’t stop laughing.

Suddenly, it looked as if it might be a great day after all.

We whiffed and flailed — I pleaded a shoulder injury, OK? We lost tons of balls in the high grass and the ravines. The girl drove. We didn’t keep score — who could count that high? The girl drove some more. The course was empty and Mulligan-friendly, so we took advantage. We giggled and goofed and fell down like the teen she is and the one I haven’t been for 30 years.

And the kid proved to be a supportive partner: When I took waaay too literally one hole’s printed instructions to aim my tee shot right, she chirped a bubbly, “Well, you listened to the sign.”

Turns out the girl can talk smack, putt and drive. A cart, I mean.

“For the record,” the journalist’s kid said as we neared the end, “the golf cart was my favorite part.”

Still, by the ninth, she was proud of the little half-wedge shot she’d worked on, popping it up and dropping it gently on the green in the general vicinity of where she’d aimed.

“That was fun, sort of,” the girl said as we headed for the parking lot and to an air-conditioned lunch. “But even if I had a future in golf, I don’t think I’d want a future in golf.”

Hmm. I’m thinking that’s not exactly the feel-good response that “Take Your Daughter to the Course” Week was born to bring.

So how come our couple of hours on the course together felt so good?