Sports

Dunn dominates senior tennis circuit

Bremerton’s Jack Dunn gets in a practice at the Bremerton Tennis and Athletic Club Monday, Aug. 5, where he’s been a member for 32 years. The 74-year-old Dunn won a pair of gold medals last month in 65 and 75 singles and qualified for the National Senior Olympics next year.  - Photo by Rogerick Anas
Bremerton’s Jack Dunn gets in a practice at the Bremerton Tennis and Athletic Club Monday, Aug. 5, where he’s been a member for 32 years. The 74-year-old Dunn won a pair of gold medals last month in 65 and 75 singles and qualified for the National Senior Olympics next year.
— image credit: Photo by Rogerick Anas

His copper skin soaked with sunlight, Jack Dunn rarely smiles in a game-time situation, especially when he is busy beating an opponent into the ground.

After winning the first major tennis tournament this year, Dunn is ranked number one nationally in the 75’s singles and doubles division, but he still manages to hit around with the younger members at the Bremerton Tennis and Athletic Club.

“(Tennis) keeps me active,” Dunn said. “I see how many people aren’t active, how many people aren’t playing, and how many aren’t willing to play.”

The secret for Dunn’s longevity on the court is consistent playing, either here during the spring and summer or in Arizona where he resides during the fall and winter months.

“He’s like the Energizer Bunny,” said long-time friend and former doubles partner Bob Fredricks. “His conditioning allows him to play through anything. He takes great care of himself.”

At 74 years of age, many of Dunn’s friends have passed away and he only knows one other person his age that participates in a vigorous sport like he does.

Dunn has cracked tennis balls at Bremerton’s Tennis and Athletic Club since it opened in 1970 but his history with the game began in 1941, when he was in sixth grade.

It was the year Pearl Harbor was bombed and many professional athletes were leaving their sports to join the army in the World War II. A loaf of bread cost eight cents.

Dunn started hitting around with his schoolmates, and they read the sports sections of newspapers after school at a local park.

Back then, Dunn spent as much time on the courts each week as adults spent in their offices or factories. Playing tennis was something he loved — more for the social aspect than the sweat and competition.

Each day he would scale a 10-foot fence and slip in an hour of rallies before the school bells rang at a quarter to nine. Then he traded his lunchtime hour for some play in the sun.

After school meant a few hours of tennis. After dinner meant even more.

“We really had a chance to be kids in those days,” he said.

As for a racket, Dunn recalled, “Whatever I picked up was what I used.”

Back then, the strings were thin steel cables, the racket heads were tiny, and the frame was shiny metal.

There were no 130 mph serves, there was no Pete Sampras and no professional baseline queens like Venus Williams. Though there was an active professional tour, there wasn’t even television to watch it.

“We didn’t know up from down or anything going on in the tennis world,” said Dunn.

Dunn was living in Arizona, so warm nights permitted hours of play.

In the summer of 1941 his father picked up a job at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, so Dunn’s family was off to Bremerton.

When Dunn started his freshman year at Bremerton High School he focused on basketball and baseball instead of tennis. The P.E. teacher asked him to try out for the basketball team in the winter, and Dunn followed his friends to the baseball diamonds in the spring.

“A lot of the basketball kids played baseball, so I just sort of went with my friends,” he said.

It wasn’t until his junior year at Eastern Washington University that Dunn picked up a racket again.

Then he dropped it again after college, this time for 22 years.

“I was too busy coaching or teaching or refereeing,” he said. Dunn taught physical education and health at a slew of junior and senior highs before landing a job as assistant principal back at Bremerton High.

While Dunn was teaching his then 13-year-old son Mike to play tennis, he fell in love again with the game he had left back on the hot Arizona courts.

He started working his way through the draws at local tournaments in the 35’s and 45’s divisions, and found his game.

“It’s not a stylish game, not one you would see on TV with all the heavy strokes,” he said.

Dunn talks fast like the way he plays tennis. No waiting around, just getting to the heart of the action. He never pauses between points to catch his breath or give his opponent a break. His serve is quick and he rarely misses.

“I use a lot of spins, cuts and drops,” he said. “I just try to move the guy around so I can do a trick shot. Everything I hit has some kind of spin on it.”

Dunn hits shots near the base line so his opponents are pulled back off the meat of the court. Then he cuts a spinning shot that crosses over the net, lays over and dies, with only a ripple of a bounce.

By the time an opponent swivels towards the net the ball is rolling on the concrete, and Dunn is at the service line ready for the next point.

Dunn said his greatest strength is his consistency. He doesn’t miss a shot, he just waits for his opponent to make a mistake.

He gets cramps in his legs after a long day of tennis, but the only thing that really bothers him is his back.

“I have a lot of back pain, but nothing that stops me,” he said. He goes to the chiropractor every so often to get his vertebrae realigned.

Dunn broke two ribs earlier this year in a tournament in Palm Springs. After some time off to recover he was back in form, winning the Washington Senior Olympics tournament a couple weeks ago in the 75 and 65-year-old singles divisions. And last Sunday he won the 70-year-old division at the Washington State Tennis Championships in Seattle. He easily defeated Vern Larson 6-2, 6-1.

Fredericks predicts that Dunn will keep on playing for years to come.

“They’ve got 80 and over United States Tennis Association events and he’s going to be killing them when he gets old enough,” Fredericks said.

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