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Tennis aficionados take to the court / October 15, 2020

When the Southside Area Tennis Association was looking to have a fall league this year, they naturally reached out to South Boston/Halifax County since the organization serves this area.

Seven South Boston residents signed on to compete in the SATA adult league with three of the players being current and former Halifax County High School girls tennis coaches. Donna Hudson, current head coach of the girls team, says she’s enjoying her time in the league.

“There are seven of us from South Boston playing: Bryant Claiborne, Beth Layne, Val Booker, Patsy Hamlett, Brooke Gasperini, and my sister Sandy Slayton,” Hudson said. (Layne and Booker are the former coaches.) “There are other folks from Danville on our team. It’s been great to meet so many other adult tennis players, and to play with and against different people.”

Booker, who coached from 1995-1996, said the game is a great way for her to enjoy the social aspect of the game.

“I’m originally from Raleigh,” Booker said. “I moved to the Danville–South Boston area, in 1988. And back in the day I played a lot of tennis and I played with these girls. I played with Patsy Hamlett; and I played Beth Layne.

“You know, so it’s kind of like the ‘ole gang is getting back together when we’re in our 50’s and 60’s.”

Layne, who coached from 1993-2003 said, “I love it. I started playing when I was about 16 but I got the fever and had my addiction in my 20’s and 30’s and I would play hours and hours. I was just really addicted to tennis.”

The adult league has over 50 players competing. SATA also sponsors a youth league and has approximately 45 kids participating. Hudson said they play in Danville, either at Stratford Tennis Club (clay courts) or at GW-Danville.

“We are hoping that if more South Boston folks join these types of leagues in the future we could have matches here as well,” Hudson said. “Each week we are paired with someone different from our team and given an opponent and we make a date with those opponents.”

Tennis pro Rusty Lovell, who started SATA, said he’s glad to see the tennis players from South Boston taking part in the shortened season. Even in the midst of COVID-19 the season has been a success.

Lovell said due to tennis being a game that’s naturally played at a social distance, the interest has actually increased in the sport since the coronavirus outbreak.

“Well yeah, we kind of changed how we did things, but the growth has surprisingly still been strong and that’s mainly because tennis is naturally social distant,” Lovell said. “But you know limited physical contact and it’s outside, so it’s been throbbing during quarantine and just during the pandemic.”

Lovell, who graduated from Martinsville high School and played division one tennis at Radford, said to make scheduling work, he left it to the adults so they can work around their needs.

“The adults can schedule their own matches around their schedules. I thought it would be a little bit of a logistical challenge but the adults have really risen to the occasion, and everybody has been showing up to the matches on time. So it’s been good to see how they have been able to come together and do what they need to do to make the season successful.”

Hudson — who graduated from Halifax and is a former Comet tennis player — said she was a mediocre player while in high school. She played more for the camaraderie in high school, Hudson added. She really got into tennis once she was an adult. She said that helped lead her to the coaching position she now has at HCHS.

“I rediscovered tennis as an adult and got hooked,” Hudson recalled. “I convinced my husband to try it, and now we play pretty frequently. Playing against him definitely makes me a stronger player I started coaching the girls team seven years ago, and I love doing that.”

Coaching tennis, like most sports, is a year round commitment. Hudson said with the tennis season cancelled it allowed her a little more personal time to get in some tennis play herself.

“It’s very time consuming, with open court in the Fall followed by conditioning followed by tryouts, and then in season it’s everyday through the first weeks of June,” said Hudson. “With the pandemic, I had a little more time to get involved in something personally, so I decided to try this league. It’s also been a little more time consuming than I expected, but it is fun.”

Layne said just being a teacher in itself is time consuming but she enjoys the break the league offers.

“My playing has not been up to my standard of what I’d like to be playing,” said a still-competitive Layne. But I’m getting better with every week.

“You know you’ve got to play to play well. And I’m a teacher and so we barely have time to breath much less practice tennis But I know that the schedule match, I know I’m gonna have those couple of hours to play.”

Booker said for her it’s about having some time just to remain fit. She says at one time she was also super competitive though health issues in recent years has limited some of her fierce spirit.

“My knees won’t allow me to run anymore and because of major back surgery … so I’m out walking and playing tennis,” Booker said. “Now it’s a lot more just for fun and in meeting people and seeing people but it used to be super competitive for me. I used to play on a team in Danville and we’d go to Greensboro every week and have a bit more of a competitive time.”

SATA will hold a tournament on Oct. 24 for the participants. Lovell said the league’s next big event would be the Danville City Open coming up Nov. 13-14; the event is open to non-members also.

As SATA enters the winter months, Lovell said his only real concern was the opportunities the organization usually offers area youth may not take place this winter and coming spring.

“Our biggest challenge has been since the kids are not in school, and I would say that hasn’t really affected us until this upcoming winter which we’re about to approach cause we work in PE classes in public schools all winter growing the sport,” Lovell said. “And that’s usually where we get a lot of participation for our spring middle school league and for our summer camps. So we introduce it to them in the PE classes for free and then we just offer avenues to continue to develop in the sport thru our leagues and camps.”

You can visit SATA online at

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