By: Dale King Contributing Writer
The persistent “thwok” of tennis balls careening off the tines of racquets is a sound heard constantly around the massive Tennis Center in downtown Delray Beach.
Once a year, tennis legend Chris Evert gathers friends and net colleagues at Delray’s center court for a tournament designed to raise cash for charity and give spectators a couple of chuckle-filled afternoons of humorous tennis clashes on the clay court.
The latest tourney, the 30th Annual Chris Evert Pro-Celebrity Tennis Classic, held the weekend before Thanksgiving, raised $800,000 for the retired pro’s campaign against drug abuse and child neglect.
The money is earmarked for programs funded through the Ounce of Prevention Fund of Florida and through the Drug Abuse Foundation of Palm Beach County.
“This was one of the most exciting events in our 30-year history,” said Evert. “Having Barry Gibb play at the Gala was a dream come true and really helped us reach our fundraising goal for this year.”
Gibb, the latest surviving member of the famed rock group, the Bee Gees, was guest performer at Saturday’s $750-a-ticket, black tie gala at the Boca Raton Resort & Club, a staple of the yearly Evert festivity. Gowned and tuxedoed guests walked into the Resort’s Grand Hall along a red carpet as photographers snapped pictures.
The latest fundraising tally pushes the 30-year total nearly to the $26 million mark.
“When Dick and Chrissie started this event in 1989, I could not imagine it would have grown to what it is today,” said Carole Siemens, honorary event chair each year since the Pro-Celebrity Classic began. “I am beyond thrilled that we could raise so much money to help our community.”
Her late husband, Dick Siemens, one of the original founders with Chrissie, passed away last year. He was memorialized in 2018 with a scholarship in his name.
The two days of tennis at the Delray Beach Tennis Center in late November featured celebrities such as Carson Kressley, Jon Lovitz, Gavin Rossdale, Kevin McKidd, Scott Foley, Tate Donovan, Shawn Hatosy, Helio Castroneves, Seal and David Cook. Tennis pros joining Chris included Martina Navratilova, Patrick McEnroe, Luke Jensen, Rennae Stubbs, Vince Spadea and Jesse Levine.
Saturday’s center court spectacle was held under a hot sun shining through thickening clouds. The sun returned Sunday afternoon after a morning of rain and dark clouds.
Pros and celebs paired off for doubles rounds Saturday, with Jensen and Kressley vs. Stubbs and Lovitz; Evert and Seal vs. Stubbs and McKidd; Spadea and Rossdale vs. Levine and Foley and Navratilova and Hatosy vs. Luke Jensen and Tate Conovan. The Boca Raton High School Cheerleaders formed a gauntlet as players ran onto the court.
With Kressley as umpire, laughter ran rampant during Saturday’s
Match 2. As Seal lobbed a ball near the ump, the funny man from “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” shouted: “Not my nose. It cost about $7,000.”
Court action temporarily halted when a man loudly yelled in pain as he fell between metal bleachers in the stands. “Is he OK?” Seal asked one of the spectators, and all players turned as the crowd rushed to help the stricken onlooker. The man got up, apparently unhurt, but admittedly “embarrassed.”
Kressley led the laugh brigade, making cell phone calls as he umpired the contest. When Stubbs and McKidd got a bit rowdy, he warning: “Everyone needs to calm down.”
Between matches, crowds enjoyed food and drink booths, information tents and tables of business folks pitching their trades. A couple of stilt walkers towered over the crowd, face painting was available and kids were fascinated by a trained monkey as well as dogs brought in by Tri County Animal Rescue.
During Sunday’s check presentations, Jaquira Church became the 43rd young woman to be awarded the Vitas Gerulaitis Memorial Scholarship by Chris Evert Charities. The scholarship’s recipients are women who have participated in social service programs offered by the Ounce of Prevention Fund of Florida, which partners with Chris Evert Charities to support at-risk children and families.
Tanya Thicke presented the Alan Thicke Scholarship, on behalf of her late husband, Alan, to Dana Tiek-Sosa. This scholarship began last year to recognize a young, single mother who needs financial assistance for college.
The Chris Evert Charities scholarship program began in 1995 and honors the late Gerulaitis, a friend of Evert, who was ranked in the ATP Top 10 for seven straight years until 1983.