Teens catch, retrieve for US Open

By Cory Tischbein and Jeremy Walsh

While some teenagers are looking for summer work and others just want to have fun, many have found an activity that combines both elements: becoming a US Open ballperson.

About 350 teenagers, 14 and older, spent last Thursday afternoon at Flushing's USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in fierce competition with one another for over some 80 open positions as a ballperson for the 2008 US Open. Judges evaluated prospective ballpersons on their throwing, running and catching skills.

Stephany Castrillon, 18, of Jamaica was one of the hopefuls.

“I've been practicing for this competition for over a month now,” she chuckled. “I would be a great ballperson because, like with this competition, I always try my best.”

Rockaway resident Frances Amodeo, 14, tried out for the first time, but said she has attended plenty of US Opens with her family. Sitting in the stands waiting for her turn was “nerve-wracking,” she said, noting the tournament would take on a new dimension if she were selected to field balls.

“It would mean everything to me,” she said. “Anything to get closer to the game would be amazing.”

The allure of being a US Open ballperson is so great that residents of other states have been drawn to Queens for this opportunity.

“I think I did well during my tryout. I'm athletic and I have good catching and throwing skills,” said Calee Spragis, 16, of Bucks County, Pa., who has been playing tennis since the seventh grade.

“If my daughter wins, I will do whatever it takes to get her here to play, even if that means staying in a hotel room,” said Robert Spragis, Calee's father.

Although all competitors share the desire to become a ballperson, they have different motivations for doing so.

“I would love to be a ballperson, especially because I would get to meet so many famous tennis players,” Calee said.

“The experience of playing a sport that is relatively new to me would be awesome,” Castrillon said.

“I would love to be able to do this and show other people with disabilities that they can get up and play, too,” said Scout Bassett, 19, a UCLA student from Palm Desert, Calif., who has one prosthetic leg.

Like the other prospective ballpersons, Bassett said she thinks she did well, noting her agility and coordination.

Kelly Bruno, 24, of Durham, N.C., said a friend on the New York Tennis Association board encouraged her to try out and demonstrate what people with prosthetics can do. Bruno, a triathlete, said she was surprised at the agility required to be a ballperson.

“If I made it, I would actually have a leg made [specially] for it,” she said. “They can make legs for anything these days.”

The lucky ballpersons will be notified through the mail in the coming days .

The positions pay an hourly wage of $7.75 and the winner is expected to be available for the US Open from Monday, Aug. 25, to Sunday, Sept. 7.

To buy tickets for or receive information on the US Open, visit usopen.org or call 1-866-OPEN-TIX.

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