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The ball's in their court: 2016 Ballperson tryouts

By Jackie Finn
Friday, June 24, 2016

The start of Wimbledon may be right around the corner, but for some New York tennis fans there is something entirely more important on the agenda – the annual installment of the US Open ballperson tryouts.

Each year, hundreds of potential ballpersons head out to Flushing Meadows for the opportunity to try out for one of the coolest jobs of the summer, and this year was no different.

The masses descended on the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on Thursday for the first of two auditions. With 80 open positions on the line, 430 people made their way out to New York’s largest borough in hopes of securing one of the coveted spots.

Although most arrived by subway or in cars, others made their way to the home of the US Open from a greater distance.

Joy Dempsey, from Raleigh N.C., flew to New York for the tryouts a day early, in order to mentally prepare.

“I came up yesterday as I had to do my dry run,” Dempsey said. “I left my house in Raleigh at 4 a.m. yesterday morning and arrived in New York at 11:15 a.m. I came right out to the tennis center.”

For Dempsey, 59, an avid tennis fan, traveling for work meant many times she had to miss watching the greatest stars in the game compete in New York. So this year, Dempsey took it into her own hands to make up for those lost years.

“Now that I'm not traveling anymore, I think there's no better way to get connected to the event than by being a ballperson,” she said.

Scott Sloyer, 56, from St. Louis, Missouri, had his own particular connection to the last Grand Slam of the year that made him want to come to the tryouts.

"I used to be the vice president of sales for Fila when they outfitted the ballpersons, so trying out to be a ballperson is really full circle for me,” Sloyer said. “It's a bucket list item for me too, so I'm just excited to knock it off the list and show my kids that you're never too old to achieve something."

Throughout the tryout, potential ballpersons are put through a series of tasks that allow US Open officials to evaluate their running, throwing and catching skills.

These US Open officials are led by Tina Taps, manager of tennis programs at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center and the US Open director of ballpersons, who has been running the on-court selection process for more than 20 years. To Taps, who first worked as a gate attendant and then as a women’s locker room aid when she started at the Open, her team of ballpersons is a family.

“It’s a brotherhood and sisterhood of ballpersons,” Taps said. “It’s really a unique team environment, and there’s nothing like it.”

It’s a family that works together to do an important job. Without well-prepared ballpersons, the US Open wouldn’t be able to function.

“It’s rewarding to see the thrill they [ballpersons] get out of it, how well they do it, and how much pride they have doing it,” Taps said.

Those who impressed the officials on Thursday will be invited back for a second tryout in early July, where Taps and her team will make their final decisions and welcome 80 new people into the family.

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