Will Blackburn | For The Daily Independent

Birthday celebrants include, from left, back row: Ernie Tucker, Bennie Shields, middle, Sandra McCulloch, front row, Bob Vanover, Casey Johnson, Mary Kay Marshall, Ludy Dorado and Pacifico Dorado.

ASHLAND A small group got together at the Ashland Tennis Center late Saturday afternoon to throw a party for several tennis players who had or would have their 80th birthdays this year.

They took group photos, enjoyed a slice of cake and played a few games of tennis as part of the celebration.

Helen Johnson, one of the hosts for the event, said she “thought it was very unusual to have this many people turning 80 in one year and still playing tennis.”

“They’re all my friends,” she continued, “so I wanted to do something special and talked two of my friends into helping. Then the Tennis Center also got involved. They provided the cake, the drinks and the assistance. I just think this is an unusual thing, but it’s spectacular.”

Casey Johnson was one of the guests of honor and has been playing tennis for 45 years at the center.

“Ever since I started playing, I started meeting new people and we’d get together. We’d be groups of 3.5 players or 4.0, and we’d go compete. It’s been like that for years,” she said.

“My husband and I were playing one day,” she continued, “and he and I needed to find a group to play tennis with instead of always depending on him being available. So, at that time the YMCA had tennis groups coming down here to play and that’s when I got on and started meeting everybody.”

Casey Johnson also talked about how important tennis is to her.

“I come from a family of tennis players. We all play; my husband played tennis and taught tennis. We both played in competitions. My children play also. We’re just a family of tennis lovers.”

Johnson explained that she initially was part of a YMCA group for women that played in the evenings after work. While there, she would meet people in other groups and started meeting and playing with them. The group has grown and changed over time. “I can only say this to people, that no matter what age you are, there’s always something out there to do to have fun.” she said.

Pacifico Dorado, another guest of honor and a retired surgeon, discussed his history playing the game.

“My wife and I have been playing Tennis for a long time, started in the early ’70s, and we also play in Ironton. I’m also involved with the American cancer society, and my wife is with the American Heart Association so we’ve played to raise funds for them. All our kids played tennis and all of them were really happy that they learned the sport. It’s a lifelong sport. You don’t get injuries like with football or sports like that. You get good exercise and there’s camaraderie.”

Jack Ditty is a dermatologist with a practice across from the former Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital and has been heavily involved with the tennis groups at the Ashland Tennis Center.

“Well, I’ve been involved with tennis for 62 years and I grew up here in Ashland. I played for the Ashland Tennis Team and Paul Blazer Tennis Team and traveled all over the state and country playing tennis tournaments. At 14 I was in the local J.C. Tournament, and I was among the winners who went to the state tournament. From that we went to the National J.C. Tournaments. I realized from those trips that tennis could take me any place.

“I became very committed to being a lifetime tennis player and still am,” Ditty continued, “I’m 72 now. I came back to Ashland in 1980, and when I got here, I wanted tennis to continue to grow, so I helped develop a program called the Ashland Tennis Patrons. We had 300 too 400 members. We put on seven tennis tournaments a year. We’ve provided free treatments to 400 kids. My connection to tennis is like the roots of a tree, in every direction, for as deep as you can go.”

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