By BRIAN JENNINGS
On Friday, July 7, the Wayton Open tennis tournament opened with its second-largest field in the tournament’s 10-year history. A total of 212 entrants began the two-week competition, down slightly from last year’s field (233).
But the biggest surprise about opening weekend? No rainouts.
“We got all 15 of our matches in on Friday,” said tournament creator and director, Matt Wayton. “It poured all day long for like six or seven hours. Then it stopped at 3:00. We dried the courts, and it was good.”
The biggest surprise of this year’s Wayton Open was not the weather, however. The tournament has seemed to increase in entries little by little every year. So, why the sudden decline?
When the Wayton Open first began in 2007, the tournament was filled with mostly Southington residents for about the first five years. As the tournament grew and gained exposure over time, the field was split in half with 50 percent of Southington residents and 50 percent of out-of-towners. Only about 10 percent of those entries were Southington residents.
“I was shocked,” said Wayton. “I don’t know what happened with that.”
Much of the decline in Southington residents can be traced back to the fact that only two players from the boys high school team and one player from the girls high school team signed up to play. According to Wayton, he tried to get more of the high school players to come out.
“I can only promote, do social media, and beg and plead with them to play,” said Wayton. “At some point, you just give up and look to more outside towns.”
One of the big changes made to this year’s tournament was the addition of the high school boy’s doubles division. There’s only one problem though. No one signed up for it.
Actually, one team did sign up, but Wayton just scrapped the newly installed division and threw the team into the men’s B doubles division. Wayton also combined the high school girl’s singles division with the women’s singles division because only three high school girls signed up.
“I’m thinking about just scratching the high school divisions in total,” said Wayton. “We never get many in any of them because high school kids don’t come out. It could be because of apathy, laziness, or summer stuff.”
Lack of high school entrants was part of the reason why Wayton changed the charity donation of his tournament. In past years, the funds raised from his tournament was donated to the male and female winners of the high school singles divisions as scholarship money. But now, the Wayton Open is donating the tournament’s funds to Thank Dog Rescue.
“My family’s always had a passion for helping dogs,” said Wayton. “We have our own dogs and have given money to rescue dogs before. We’ve tried to volunteer with groups and just love dogs. We don’t want to see any dogs homeless or in pain.”
According to their website, Thank Dog Rescue is, “an IRS approved 501(c) (3) charitable organization dedicated to finding loving homes for shelter, homeless, and abandoned dogs of all breeds.” The organization describes itself as, “not a shelter, but a small group of volunteers who foster dogs in our homes where they are loved as our own, until a suitable permanent home is found.”
Thank Dog Rescue is located and Newtown, but sponsors multiple events around central Connecticut, which was also a big reason why Wayton thought Thank Dog Rescue would be a great charitable organization for his tournament. Foster dogs were present for the second round of the tournament on Saturday, and applications were even put in for adoptions.
“We noticed them on social media,” said Wayton. “They do a good job of having a presence and telling each dog’s story that they get. They really go in depth and tell you everything about their history. They really do it for the love of the dogs.”
With the amount of Southington residents Wayton has seen in past tournaments, the tournament could be well over 300 entrants. However, 212 entrants is not a bad number for the tournament’s 10th anniversary, even though they’re mostly out-of-towners. Southington encompasses a decent-sized tennis community, and ideally, Wayton would like his tournament to be comprised of half Southington residents and half out-of-towners like it once was.
But Wayton isn’t agonizing over the recent trend and only sees his tournament attracting even more out-of-towners for the future. Wayton eventually wants to expand his tournament to the whole state of Connecticut.
“You can only get so many Southington people,” said Wayton. “Maybe we’ve hit out quota with that, but it could be a mix of vacation or lack of interest. I’m not sure.”
So, what is the reason for the attraction of more out-of-towners? The Wayton Open official website, social media, and posting flyers at tennis courts around Southington and surrounding towns have certainly helped Wayton spread the word his tournament in recent years. But there’s more to the trick of the attraction that go beyond the advertisements though.
When one or two people come out for the tournament one year, those one or two people turn into three or four the next year, due to word of mouth.
“If you play tennis in central Connecticut, you know about the tournament,” said Wayton. “A lot of them play doubles and mixed doubles. They get their partner to play, and then they tell their friends about it. They get like 10 people from their town.”
The Wayton Open is scheduled to continue with matches taking place all through this week, ending with championship Sunday on July 16. For more information on the tournament, you can visit the Wayton Open at www.waytonopen.com or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/TheWaytonOpen.
Sponsors for the tournament include the following: Joanna Wayton, PhotoExpressions.com, the Kenney family, CSEC Tennis Tournament, Paul Wayton, Lori Adams, Chris Zissis, the Wayton family, the Delgado family, Adams Advanced Retirement Planning, Robert Kania D.D.S., Awards of Elegance LLC, the Goldberg family, and The Deli Rescue.
For this week’s box scores, click here: (southingtonobserver.com/2017/07/12/weekly-scoreboard-for-the-july-14-edition). To contact sports writer Brian Jennings, email him at BJennings@SouthingtonObserver.com.