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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Chicken Tennis? Why you ask.. because Jerry Gassel turns 80 this month!

Chicken Tennis ...the tennis version of Beer Pong? A few weeks ago Scott's doubles partner from his teenage years, Dan Gassel, contacted him and asked him to write a letter for his fathers 80th birthday.   He also asked him to sign the letter "The Chicken Plucker"    A smile came to Scott's face thinking of those fun times in North County playing tennis and earning the nickname from Jerry because he worked in the kitchen at Kentucky Fried Chicken along with a few other tennis players.    Of course those memories are intertwined with tennis and north county so we said why not a blog to celebrate the 80th Birthday of Mr. Gassel!   Many of the places we played tennis are now gone including LarMor Swim Club, West James Courts(Where Scott and Dan took lessons), the former Bellefontaine Swim and Tennis Club and the courts at Pruett Park which are no longer playable.

However one court came to mind as the right place to play this match.   The Riverview Gardens High School Courts because they sat literally across the street from 1211 Shepley the home of the Gassel Family where Jerry and Carol  raised two wonderful daughters and Scott's doubles partner Dan.

As we arrived at the courts we could see they were in bad shape however one thing had improved.  The courts had real nets.   Back in Scott's day the nets were made of chain link fence.   Many a competitive tennis match was played on these courts back in the day.  Scott played many a match here against his high school nemesis Ken Eckert a proud Riverview Ram.  Today the courts look little used.  Scott brought Chris Gassel (no known relation to Jerry) with him.  Chris is the behind the scenes compiler of this blog.    Stan as usual was busy selling homes for Remax Select which means he was slightly late so we had a few minutes to warm up.   Chris is a beginner and has been taking  tennis lessons from Mark Platt so we hit a few balls until the Riverview Gardens Security Guard showed up and informed us we could not play tennis during school hours.

We called Stan and met him at Bella Fontaine Park adjacent to the Bellefontaine Neighbors Recreation Center where they have two courts.   They used to have four but two have been converted to basketball.   We opened a can of balls from our new sponsor The X-Ball and got ready to play.  In order to celebrate Jerry's 80th we put the special "Chicken Plucker" rules in effect.   For the first set we put two cans four feet from the net on each side in the drop shot zone.   If either player hit the can he automatically wins the game and forces the other player to eat one piece of KFC from the bucket we acquired from Scott's old workplace.    Scott won the toss and served and earned a game point.

Stan lobbed over Scott's head and Scott ran back spun around and hit an inside out forehand passing shot to win the game.  He then broke stan and held for a 3-0 lead.   Although several attempts were made to hit the can it proved to be very difficult.   You also now had the added responsiblity if you were at net to defend the can which Stan did successfully using his Bulgarian goalie skills!  As usual Scott could not count Stan out and he fought back to 4-5 with Scott serving with a set point.  On set point both players went for the can and ended up at the net where Stan hit a fantastic lob volley over Scott's head to save set point.   He continued on to break and even the set at 5-5.   Scott was able to break and hold to close out the set 7-5.

We changed the rules for the second set putting four cans on the service sidelines.   Stan fought hard to start and broke Scott on a great short angle backhand which missed the can but was devastating nevertheless.    At 3-2 Stan served and held at love for a 4-2 lead.   Scott served and Stan won three more points in a row forcing triple break point.   Things were not looking good for Scott.   Then lightning struck...

Scotts first serve smashed into the can automatically winning the game and sending Stan to the KFC bucket.  Now 4-3 Stan managed to survive the chicken and close out the set at 6-3.   However the game was now changed as we both knew the cans were now a factor.

We decided to play a USTA 10 point tiebreaker to decide the match.   The tiebreaker rule was hit the can automatically win the tiebreaker.  Both players were now going for the cans on every shot knowing that a can hit was an automatic match win.

Of course there were a few errors and Stan was the steadier and went out to a 7-2 lead.   Scott fought back hard.   Both players were all over the cans but nobody could hit the mark.   At 9-8 Stan had the first match point.

He came to the net on Scott's backhand and Scott somehow floated a slice passing shot down the line past Stan to even it at 9-9.   Back and forth it went with each player having multiple match points.  Finally at 15-14 Scott served for the match.   His serve nearly missed the can but was in Stan went for the can on Scott's backhand side and Scott went backhand crosscourt for the can.  Stan approached the net and Scott finished the match with a forehand down the line pass!  16-14 tiebreak win.   After four straight losses to Stan the Chicken Plucker rides again 7-5, 3-6, 1-0!

The courts are in need of work.  They were missing netstraps, nets were coming apart and most importantly the surfacing is cracked and uneven and retains water.   Water was constantly pushing out of the court and some sections were uneven and could create bad bounces or more importantly trip hazards.   The rest of the facility is in great shape.   Our rating on condition is a 5 and location is a 7 for a combined rating of 6.   The location next to the Police and Fire Station can cause some noise issues.   A nearby attraction is the General Daniel Bissell House and a great place to eat is Central Realty favorite The White Barn.

Happy 80th Birthday Jerry Gassel!  This Blog's for you!

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