|Grant in his younger playing days
|Grant (left) today
Junior competitive tournament tennis can be a cutthroat experience, alternating between cheers and tears, deflation or elation. Other times, win or lose, it can be a lifeline to individuals and their families. In one instance last March, it gave a heartwarming glimpse into the sportsmanship and humanity that can exist even in the midst of a tournament match.
Eighteen-year-old Grant DeCampli was born with multifactorial complications that displayed themselves in developmental and learning issues as he grew older. As a young child he would watch his sister, an accomplished junior player, compete at tournaments before eventually taking to the court himself.
"I remember how excited he was at his first tournament, to get out there and do what his sister had been doing," said his father, Dr. William DeCampli, the chief of pediatric cardiovascular surgery at the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Orlando. "It was a big change for him, from watching competition to being in it."
Grant was playing Rookie-level tournaments by age 14, and training at the Winter Park Tennis Center near his home.
"I was watching my sister play, and I started playing when I was five years old," says Grant, who speaks in measured, enthusiastic tones. "She was sitting on the bench and I got up and I started hitting the ball with the coach. I love the sport, and it's a really cool game."
Grant had another self-described "really cool" tournament experience in late March when he hung with the No. 1 seed at a local Orlando-area tournament.
Competing at the Winter Park Local tournament in the boys' 18 division, to say the then-17-year-old Grant received a tough draw is an understatement. He drew the No. 2 seed in his first match, and was beaten 6-1, 6-0. In his first consolation match, Grant drew the tournament's No. 1 seed, Briton Richardson of Wesley Chapel, who had been upset in his first match in the main draw.
Rather than trying to blow-out Grant 6-0, 6-0 as he had his previous consolation opponent, Richardson extended rallies and played long points with Grant, eventually coming away with a 6-4, 6-3 victory. One of the tournament organizers, touched by the display of sportsmanship, asked Richardson after the match if she could come around the tournament desk and give him a hug.
"As my son Wade and I watched Grant compete, we were amazed at how much he enjoyed competing and also how hard he tried during the match," said USTA Florida Executive Director Doug Booth. "We also loved how Briton, the No. 1 seed, competed during the match with Grant. I enjoyed watching Grant and Briton play because it reinforced for me the value of tennis for reasons other than rankings, wins and losses."
Grant's father says that while Grant has some gross motor coordination issues, he remains an avid competitor, and can still hold his own in terms of strength and general coordination.
"At the tougher levels of competition, some of the limitations in speed and response rate come in," Dr. DeCampli says. "If you saw him play the other day against his opponent who is trained and coached at Saddlebrook, he hung in there. There were long rallies."
Grant's sister Elissa now competes for the Rollins College women's tennis team. For two parents who only play tennis casually, the sport has come to dominate the lives of the younger DeCampli children, and in many ways define the family.
"My sport was rowing in college," Dr. DeCampli says with a chuckle. "My wife's sport was swimming. We both competed in Division I in our own sports. But I've always loved tennis, and I felt it was the right sport to get both the kids into. I never expected Elissa to go as far as she has, and for Grant to hang in there, but the two of them when they play, they act like it is the first day they've ever been on the court -- they just love it."
Tennis has taken the family all over the country for tournaments and events over last 10 or so years, inspiring parents and children.
"Through his tennis, Grant has inspired all of us to work harder and be dedicated, it's been wonderful as a family," says mother Christie. "It's been a way of keeping the family together and it's given us a common bond."
Dr. DeCampli says he "wouldn't have done it any other way" in bringing his kids up through the junior ranks.
"Tennis builds the spirits in both of these kids, and we appreciate the USTA for doing this for us," Dr. DeCampli says. "The USTA has offered a wide variety of levels of play, and organized it in such a way that everyone can win some and lose some. And that's the lesson of life -- you find your pathway where you're going to win some, but you're also going to lose some along the way, and it builds your character. It's a unique sport in that anyone can play it, practically anyone can play tennis or learn how to play."
Grant has one more year in the juniors before he turns 19. He has no long-term goals other than to just play tennis.
"That guy played really good -- I had to lob him a lot," Grant said of his match against the No. 1 seed at the Winter Park tournament, which quickly became a career highlight. "I've learned a whole bunch -- I'd just like to keep playing tournaments."