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Venue looking for return of Challenger

Jeff Tully

For six straight years, men’s pro tennis players have converged on

the Burbank Tennis Center for the annual U.S. Tennis Assn. Challenger

of Burbank.

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Young up-and-coming hotshot players have mixed with former

standouts trying to make their way back into the top ranks.

Fans have been treated to the likes of Andre Agassi, Andy Roddick,

Taylor Dent, Michael Chang and Todd Martin, who have whipped up their

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magic on the court.

However, this year there was no Challenger event. Due to problem

with fund-raising, Burbank Tennis Center Executive Director Steve

Starleaf said they were not able to host the tournament.

“We used to have Burbank City Manager Bud Ovrom help us out, and

he would make our fund-raising letter that we would send out for the

Challenger,” Starleaf said. “But he’s not the city manager anymore,

and he’s not around to help us.

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“So we didn’t get to enough sponsors to put on the tournament.

“The USTA said they would help us out, but by the time they got

back to us, there wasn’t enough time to put on the tournament.”

With Burbank out of the picture, the USTA staged a Challenger at

West End Raquet & Health Club in Torrance last month.

Starleaf said what is most disappointing thing about not having a

Challenger event at the Burbank Tennis Center is there aren’t

proceeds to go to a worthy cause.

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Every year, proceeds from the Challenger have gone to benefit the

Burbank Center for the Retarded. The BCR is a nonprofit agency that

provides day and extended-day programs, as well as monthly evening

dances, for moderately to severely developmentally disabled adults

and children from Burbank and surrounding areas.

Along with outfitting BCR individuals with sweatshirts, the

tournament also sponsors demonstration matches for some BCR members

on the final day of the tournament. Pro athletes often take the court

to play alongside the members.

“We have been able to donate about $30,000 to the [BCR] every

tournament,” Starleaf said. “Even some years where we didn’t make

that much money, we always donated the money to the center.”

One of the pro players who has been touched by the developmentally

disabled athletes’ participation is Roddick. When Roddick -- ranked

No. 1 in the Assn. of Tennis Professionals -- played at the Burbank

Challenger three years ago, he took time to associate and take

pictures with BCR members.

“Andy Roddick was so moved by his experience with these members,

that I heard he has a photo taken with them hanging up in his house,”

Starleaf said.

Roddick has also apparently not forgotten about the Burbank

Challenger. Starleaf said at a recent event in Austin, Texas on Oct.

3 -- Andy Roddick, a Night to Remember dinner and silent auction --

Roddick asked Challenger Tournament Director Tim Stallard why there

wasn’t a tournament in Burbank his year.

When he was informed about the fund-raising problem, Starleaf said

Roddick suggested he might want to lend a hand to help.

Starleaf said Roddick might be interested in possibly helping out

financially with the next Burbank Challenger.

“We’re maybe hoping for a tournament in March,” Starleaf said.

“That would be just great if Andy Roddick would help us out. I

know he has a foundation and he is really good about helping out

causes.”


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