Coming to the Don Ross Ė 2009

By Ken Blackshaw

For the Blackshaws, the journey starts in Englewood, Florida with an hour and a half drive to the Tampa Airport where the folks at Southwest Air have arranged for us to fly to Louisville. But our Don Ross journey begins long before that. We must go back to the beginning of the Don Ross, April 2005.

We were at our home on Nantucket Island. It was early April and we were thinking about the upcoming Daffodil Festival when Don would be coming to the island to visit us as heíd been doing for years. Don truly loved automobiles and every year thereíd be an antique and classic car show with around 100 cars. In addition to the visiting, jogging on Nantucketís trails, and tipping some Newcastles, we would always spend a few hours on Saturday morning walking up and down Main St. looking at the cars.

The phone rang and Cindy picked it up. I heard her exchange some pleasantries with someone and then heard her voice change. I looked up as she was walking toward me holding the phone out as she said to me, "Don is dead." It was Steve Clark, Donís estate executor in Indy, whose sad task it was to call Donís close friends and give them the news.

It was a very black day, but it caused Donís many dear friends across our country to think about ways we could keep Don in our memory. I believe the first I heard of the idea for a memorial tournament came from Sue Wieloch, in Atlanta, GA. Don lived in the Atlanta area for over ten years in the 80s and 90s and he became a central part of our club. Sue Wieloch and the Atlanta crew put the first "Don Ross" together in the summer of 2005 and held it again in August of 2006.

Over the years Don and I had many wonderful singles bashes, most of which he won, but often after we were tied at 14 all, 15 all, etc., (remember before rally scoring?) he would saunter to the net and say, "What a great game this has been. With all this wonderful play there should be no winners or losers. Letís just go and hoist a Newcastle Brown Ale!" Don and I partnered in many tournaments and he and I also logged hundreds of miles running in various road races. He and I ran at least ten Atlanta Peachtree 10Ks together and a group still gets together every July 4 to do the same, thinking of Mr. Ross as we do so.

My wife, Cindy, a casual badminton player, often partnered with Don during our weekly play sessions. She learned that if she covered her front quarter of the court near the net, Don would take the rest. I must point out that later on when she played mixed with me (Ken), I often heard, "Donald would have gotten that shot," after the shuttle was resting on the court on our side.

All these memories were in our minds as Cindy and I arrived in Louisville last Friday afternoon for our 5th Don Ross Memorial. For the past years, the wonderful folks at Mid-west Badminton have organized and run this tournament. The gymnasium at the University of Louisville is a superb venue for badminton. Twelve courts are laid out in precise badminton fashion, nice high ceilings, no nasty air currents to disturb shuttle flight and no stray sunbeams hitting your eyes.

Don always promoted the idea of badminton as a "Lifetime Sport." He loved the fact that if you stayed with the game you could play it into your eighth or ninth decade of life (alas, not for him - Don passed away at age 56). As such, the tradition of the Don Ross Memorial is that seniors are welcomed and where possible the age brackets are set up in such a way that they can compete with other veterans of the sport.

This makes me think of my good friend James Lott down in Atlanta. I remember him coming out to play in the early Don Ross Tournaments although he had not been able to play often or practice much. "Don would have wanted me out here playing." James told me, "And here I am." The game of badminton is not just about winning or losing, it is about being out there, playing your best, and helping those around you do the same. It is a "Lifetime Sport" and it is about lifetime friends.

In past years, Cindy and I have been very active in the tournament, helping with sign-in and registration, and also calling matches and helping to run the tournament desk. This was a different year because both Dawn and Bharat Patel were injured and with Bob Ericsonís help, they handled all these tasks.

Our duties this year involved arranging for the tournament hotel, and compiling and printing out the Don Ross picture album so that the many young players new to the Don Ross concept could have some idea what the man looked like. We also were responsible for coordinating the Saturday night Ďafter playí party at the Hall of Fame Restaurant.

Here I must point out another part of the Don Ross tradition that may seem alien to many of you. Itís not just playing badminton. It is social. Don loved to get together with other players after play was done and sit down, drink a beverage, perhaps have a bite to eat, and get to know what people were like. It was part of building lifetime friendships and creating a badminton community. That is one of the reasons that his sudden departure from this planet created such a gap in the lives of people who knew him. So the party associated with the Don Ross is not just a frill. It is a major part of celebrating the life of a man so many of us loved and who did so much for the sport of badminton.

Another tradition associated with the party is the TRIFLE! If you are not from the British Isles, you probably have no idea what a TRIFLE is. Iíll insert here what Wikipedia tells us about trifles.

A trifle is a dessert dish made from thick (or often solidified) custard, fruit, sponge cake, fruit juice or, more recently, gelatin, and whipped cream. These ingredients are usually arranged in layers with fruit and sponge on the bottom, and custard and cream on top.

I have to point out that in the tradition of good fun and fellowship, alcoholic spirits are added to the lower layers of fruit and sponge. If you want to have your trifle and avoid the booze, stick to the upper layers.

Mid-west Badminton is so fortunate to have a dear friend in Louisville, Allison, a person who knows about trifle and follows Don Rossí very precise and thorough recipe (available on the internet) to produce a wonderful concoction each year. Don and Bobbie Norton coordinate with Allison and help us get this huge bowl (packed in ice) to the party each year.

Try as we might, we canít consume all of it on Saturday night, so the remainder is kept refrigerated and then transported to the play venue with bowls, spoons, and napkins to provide quick energy or consolation, as appropriate, during the play of the final matches on Sunday.

This year I regret to say there were not as many senior players at the Don Ross. There was plenty of excellent open play and the ABCD format encourages that. Iím sure you will read about tournament results, winners and runners up, elsewhere in this newsletter.

For me, I was pleased to play doubles in several events. I could have used a few more games, but my offers as a "blind date" didnít attract attention. Perhaps Iíll try Craigís List next year. But I got to play with some good partners and also against some good competition. I also got to see some excellent Ďopení play and remember what the game can look like when being played by young folks who feel they are indestructible! I had the honor of keeping score for the Open Menís Doubles Final, a great three-game match that thoroughly tested my peripheral vision as the shuttled zinged back and forth from one side to the other.

Next year we will do the Don Ross Memorial again. I hope more of you will take advantage of the excellent deal we will arrange at the tournament hotel. The Hilton Garden is a beautiful facility and the price they offer us, along with a cut-rate price on the tasty, cooked to order, full breakfast, makes it a great spot to rest and recuperate from the dayís play.

I write this on the Monday following the event. Staying an extra day is one of the fringe benefits of being a retired person. Also, as a writer, I can do my work anywhere, any time, as long as a computer is near. At age 68 I am glad to report that badminton is still a Ďlifetime sportí for me, and with luck Iíll be able to keep playing for years in the best Don Ross tradition.