The Inside Tennis Team (ITT) split the matches, 2-2, with an outside guest in the San Quentin Tennis Season opener, where the only thing that mattered was community and having fun.
Ronnie Mohamed, the ITT captain since the club started in 2003, talked about the positive effect of being accepted as part of the community. Growing up, he put a lot of emphasis on wanting to be like the gangsters in the movies and guys he grew up with. Later he noticed that a tennis racket is wrapped with the same type of tape his .25 Cal. semiautomatic was. He said he has traded the old ways for a tennis racket and a transparent life.
The community members who entered the prison on April 15 for the 2017 Tennis Opener view Mohamed and the other ITT members as human beings.
Jeff Hely, one of the guests, said six weeks earlier he was in Manhattan meeting with former President Bill Clinton.
“I stepped up,” joked Hely about his meeting with Clinton.
Hely, builds bridges, railroads and ports nationwide.
Hely, a religious man, told a parable about hundreds of bottles of wine falling into a pool and all the labels coming off. From that point on, each bottle of wine couldn’t be judged by a label.
“If you open the bottle and let it breathe, everyone is a good bottle of wine,” Hely said. “I’ve gotten to know the guys over coming in for four years, and each one is a good bottle of wine.”
Hely teamed up with sponsor Sharon Skylor against ITT members Timothy Thompson and Orlando “Duck” Harris for the first match. Skylor nearly scrapped the ground with her racket as she tilted low to return a ball driven toward midcourt, but Thompson hit it back over her head for a point. ITT went on to win 4-2.
“I can come out here and just be free,” Harris said. “I can escape all the stress and drama of the everyday prison routine.”
The second game paired ITT members Robert Barnes and Steve Sidharta against Candace Davenport and Eddie Metairie. The guests won on a wicked lob over both the ITT guys’ heads.
“They have better placement,” Sidharta said. “Before playing with them, I was concentrating on overpowering the other person. Now I learned about better placement.”
Despite the loss, Sidharta enjoyed the match.
“It was great,” Sidharta said. “By them visiting us, it makes me feel like we are accepted as individuals instead of prisoners.”
Skylor and Hely took the court again for the third match, against Paul Oliver and Paul Alleyne. ITT won 4-1.
In the fourth match, Davenport and Metairie faced ITT’s Clay Long and N. Young. ITT lost 4-0.
“By them visiting us, it makes me feel like we are accepted as individuals instead of prisoners”
“You can never tell what happened by the score – it doesn’t tell you the full story,” said Metairie, a design architect who has completed half-triathlons.
Skylor finally got a win when she teamed up with ITT member Noel Scott to play against her partner Hely and ITT’s Chris Schuhmacher.
“If we didn’t split, we could have lost them all,” joked Hely about Skylor’s win.
“It’s fun to see people who love tennis as much as I do,” Scott said.
In the final mixed match of the day, ITT’s Alleyne teamed up with guest Davenport, who’s working on her first novel. They played against Mohamed and Metairie. Tied up 3-3, Alleyne and Davenport came out of sudden death the winners.
After the final match, the guests and ITT members huddled around Alleyne.
“To have these guests in here, somebody put in a lot of work and that person is Sharon,” Alleyne said. “Thank you. Also, Chris got a parole date after serving 17 years.”
Schuhmacher responded, “The people inside and the community coming in, you guys were a big part of my rehabilitation. I’ve learned so much from this game – patience, tenacity – and I just wanna say thank you.”