Good News from A Great City Haverhill, MA
It was just about 4pm and the news vehicles were heading in to get footage for the early news while the WBZ helicopter circled overhead. The mostly contained fire at Cedardale Health and Fitness on Boston Road in Haverhill still emitted streams of smoke though the floating ash had mostly sunk to the ground. The place smelled of fire.
No one was injured, but many were displaced. And dozens of members and staff lined the periphery of the fire scene in solidarity and disbelief.
The Heartbeat of Haverhill, or rather I (there was no THOH when I became a member) spent more than a decade here learning to play tennis and connecting with like minded people who were always looking for the rush of the next match. Our Thursday night tennis contract lasted a decade and we played at 8pm on court two, next to Mr. Veasey (one of the owners) and friends and frequently lasted until 10 pm or just shy of last call at the bar. We joked weekly about our missed shots and the need to play ball girl and boy to the shenanigans going on the the next court. Full disclosure – we were the shenanigans. We swore our undying hatred of the game during a bad play, and signed up immediately thereafter for the next match. For me Cedardale was tennis with friends, and the occasional wine and popcorn retreat afterwards where we talked, of course, almost exclusively about tennis.
Caption: Some good times in tennis and a few silly homemade tennis “trophies” I created for North Shore League team captain, Erik Muench
So I watched the helicopter over head and the video camera trained on a window hoping for a power shot of flame and flame fighter in action, and I thought, “they are not looking at the right things.” This is not a story about a fire, it is a story about human connections, and 1200 employees (could that number be right? The Mayor is quoted as saying they are one of the biggest employers in the City of Haverhill) and 5,000 members who seek out health, camaraderie and improved physical skills. It’s about a million laughs and exchanges with the front and tennis desks, with trainers and physical therapists. It’s about wins and losses in sports, and in love. Yes, love connections were made at Cedardale.
Initially I learned tennis from Joe Dagata who played with a wooden racquet, and women’s pro, Ms Pat Wood, who understood the science behind a woman’s body and her tennis match. I was so excited to get a point off of either of them in a drill or friendly match. Ahh the naivete! I was learning to love a sport where I could have been obliterated by the instructor, and actually had been obliterated by an 80 year old man with a hip replacement, but they helped me celebrate and achieve my tennis successes so I could share the love they did.
I started playing tennis as a reaction to a mope-inducing break up where the only thing good that came out of it was a left behind tennis racquet. Tennis was good to me though I was never a great player. I was near 40 when I started to play tennis at Cedardale, and until that time I had never played a sport continuously and competitively. I tried unsuccessfully to downplay my excitement when at 40 I picked up my first trophy at Cedardale – women’s group (not even a league) with my super talented doubles partner, Kelly. She probably, okay, she definitely, did most of the heavy lifting, but I still got and still have that trophy. Eventually, Kelly and I got the word from disgruntled opponents that we played too aggressively, were too competitive for that women’s friendly group, and we moved to mixed doubles, where everyone played as hard as possible, just short of inflicting any intentional injuries, though let it be known that unintentional injuries were a regular occurrence in the early years.
I was thrilled when the tennis bug reached out to the next generation. My twin nieces took up the game and I was almost as proud of their ensuing trophies as I was with my first trophy… almost! When they started, they told me they didn’t understand the intensity with which I played. “It’s just a game” they would say with crinkled noses at my compulsion. They played for their own decade and ultimately as they were headed for an undefeated season as high school seniors and doubles partners, they came to me and said “We get it now”, and I just smiled so broadly.
The appeal for me was that Cedardale by far offered the most tennis of any club around, had the most players and athletic options. There were indoor, outdoor, and clay courts, round robins, lessons, club teams and leagues, and every possible excuse for a tournament. It is a summer resort and a winter respite for the neighboring cities and towns with multiple swimming pools, and outdoor activities. You could always find something to do and someone to do it with, or you could engage in more solitary fitness pursuits.
Despite my ardor I eventually stopped playing tennis when life pulled me in different directions. It’s been a few years, and yet just recently I started running into former Cedardale friends. I’ve watched the Cedardale staff reach out to the community aboard their homemade float in the VFW Santa Parade. Cedardale keeps seeping back into my blood and I feel the tug to get out there and play again.. And I think I will, when the club opens up. And when I head back, I know I will see many of the same faces with that look of relief who will return home after too long a time away. Good luck on rebuilding, Cedardale.
(c)All photos and text are copyrighted by Alison Colby-Campbell and may not be used without express written consent.