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ATA Nationals begin in Cunningham Park

The scene at Cunningham Park in Fresh Meadows, where the junior brackets of the 90th Annual ATA Nationals got underway July 23, was more serene than high-octane, more friendly than competitive. Kids ages 10-18 played matches simultaneously on each court, while families sat intermingled at shaded picnic benches, cheering not only their own children, but their friends’ - which meant cheering almost everyone with a racket.
“The majority of the black tennis players, especially, are familiar with one another,” said Gerri Spigner, of Brooklyn, whose granddaughter, Shaina Spooner, 10, is participating in the Girls’ Singles event. “I’ve met Arthur Ashe, and my husband played a match with [former New York Mayor] David Dinkins. It’s a family affair.”
Close by, Anya Ilangaratne, 17, and David Stigley, 16, watched from a bench as a mutual friend played a match. Both are participating in Singles and Doubles events this year.
“New York’s been fun,” said Ilangaratne, who ventured into Manhattan the day before. “I haven’t seen a lot of it, but what I have seen, I’ve liked.”
Ilangaratne and Stigley are from the St. Paul, MN area, and are playing in their third ATA Nationals. Stigley has won the Doubles title for his age group twice, while Ilangaratne came in second last year.
Stigley’s father, who works for the United States Tennis Association, is responsible for David’s presence this year in Queens.
“A couple years ago, he found out about ATA, and got a group of us to go,” said Stigley. “It was in Indianapolis that year…my favorite city so far has been San Diego, [in 2006].”
Despite their success, tennis is a hobby for Ilangaratne and Stigley, neither of whom have strong aspirations to play college or pro tennis.
For Spigner, however, the sport is a family staple.
“It’s been a tremendous asset for us, because all of the children in our family have received tennis scholarships,” said Spigner, who has played in many Nationals since the 1970s, including this year’s.
Spigner’s granddaughter, Spooner, is playing in the Girls’ Singles for the 10-year-old age bracket, and would like to play doubles, if she could find a partner. The 2007 Nationals are Spooner’s first, though she played in an ATA tournament last month in Connecticut.
Tennis began for Spigner as a “way to keep up” with her husband, who was a basketball player.
“He was always on the basketball court, and I could never keep up with him,” she said. “So I said we should get into something we can both do, and it’s been tennis ever since.
“It’s good for your health, plus, it’s a social event,” continued Spigner. “You develop a lot of relationships.”

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