By John Goralski
When Matt Wayton opened registration for the 2013 Wayton Open tennis tournament, he wasn’t ready for anything that followed. Within a few days, he was deluged with entries. Over the next few weeks, they flooded into his home office in an endless stream of emails and phone calls.
“It was incredible,” said Wayton, a former Blue Knight tennis captain. “We had over 200 entries, and when you count all the doubles teams we have almost 400 people involved. We have five divisions this year with men’s singles, women’s singles, and doubles in both divisions. We’ve added mixed doubles, too.”
With all the interest, Wayton began the mad scramble to secure courts, schedule matches, and organize the event. It became clear that there weren’t enough high school courts to accommodate the burgeoning brackets. It was evident that two weekends wasn’t enough time to play all of the matches even if the weather cooperated.
Wayton made an impassioned plea to the Parks & Recreation Department, and they sent the cavalry.
“We couldn’t do it without their help. They’ve been great to us. They gave us the courts at Panthorn Park and Recreation Park. We’ve become too big for just one venue since there are only seven courts here at the high school, so we’ve had to spread it around,” he said. “The Parks and Recreation Department has been so great to us. Without their help, this tournament wouldn’t be possible. It’s a great partnership.”
Wayton knows that the show has to go on because the proceeds generated by the annual tournament help to fund college scholarships for Southington High School graduates. In the first year of the scholarship, Wayton was able to present $250 to a male and female graduate. Last year, he was able to offer $300 scholarships to Gary Beaumont and Emily Sheehan.
As the tournament grows, so does the scholarship fund.
“Last year we had such tremendous growth, and I want to continue to grow,” he said. “We want good, positive momentum as we try to get bigger and bigger every year. Eventually, we want to be one of the biggest recreational tournaments in the state, so we’re off to a good start.”
One thing is certain. Next year, Wayton will need even more volunteers if the tournament is going to continue. His main assistant, Gianna Gurga, is stretched to her limit. After that, Wayton relies upon former Blue Knight captains Matt Downes and James Nitz.
It’s a small but committed group of volunteers, but Wayton admits that he’ll need even more support in future years. That’s why he enlisted Frankie’s Hot Dogs to provide food and drink for spectators and players. He hands out gift bags and balls to participants. The raffle table is filled with items, and he’s done his best to ensure that the players have as good an experience as possible while he and his volunteers scramble behind the scenes.
“I like running around. Even when it gets crazy, I like talking to people and meeting new people,” he said. “I love to watch them play. I’m always hoping that they’ll come back year after year to this tournament, so I want it to be something special.”
As for the competition, Wayton said that this year boasts one of the strongest fields in the six-year history of the tournament. The first week still showcases first round matchups designed to give everyone a shot to win, but each round becomes more and more competitive. Wayton still discourages college players from division one programs, but the tournament welcomes a host of top talent.
“We are trying to keep out division one players to try to keep it a little more fair, but we’re still proud of our level of talent,” he said. “Come on down. You’re going to see some really good matches. Every single match is going to be competitive from here on out, so it’s going to be fun. Even with the lower level players, we’ve had some great competition. We’ve had family rivalries, sibling rivalries, and friendly rivalries. There have been some wars out there, and I think it’s going to continue to be a lot of fun.”
So far, the weather has cooperated. Saturday morning rains postponed 22 matches, but Wayton’s crew scrambled to reschedule them throughout the day. During the week, matches will be scheduled from 5 p.m. to dark. On the weekends, they’ll go dawn to dusk.
When the smoke clears, Wayton will crown five champions. Then… it’s back to work for next year. Wayton would have it no other way.
“It feels so good to give back, and I really want to leave my mark here,” he said. “I want this to be a lasting tournament and a legacy for the town. I want this to be a big event because we’re trying to help kids go to college. It’s hard to pay for college. I’m still paying off loans and going to grad school. I just want to give anything back that I can.”
Visit us next week for the complete results.
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By John Goralski