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Still on top of his game, at 80

July 1, 2013 02:57 AM
John Powless (Madison, WI), #1 ranked player in the world for 80 and over division.

The USTA promotes tennis as a "sport for life". Mr. John Powless, now 80 years old and the number-one ranked player in his age division, proves this to be true. Starting when he was a young man in Flora, Ill., Powless said he played tennis because he had to. "There were three sports in my high school and you were required to play all three; every young man played football, basketball and tennis."

Looking back, Powless says that was actually fun – and good for him. "There was a loud whistle that blew at night, and that meant we had to be home in bed. This was good; it made us a very strong community."
Powless continued playing tennis, even though he went on to have a successful career as a Division I basketball coach. Referring back to when he was young, Powless said "At that point, of course everyone wanted to be on the football team. But at the time, you don’t realize that it may be tough to find others to play football and basketball with, such as 5-on-5, when you’re older," he said. "But with tennis, there are some things you can do alone – with a ball machine – or with just one other person."
The relationships with others are one of the things that Powless loves so much about the game. "Every day of my life I hear from another tennis player. It happens every day - it just does - and I love it," he said. And tennis was an important part of the relationship he had with his father, and the relationship he has with his sons.
In fact, when asked about the highlights of his career, he says that playing with both his father and his sons are more memorable than any of his world or national titles. "Nothing exceeds ‘father and son’," Powless said. "Jason (his son) and I have won a championship and have been finalists several times. I also had several wins with my dad and we were championship finalists many times." He recalls one tournament where he was not playing well but his father was. "I say my dad was the best player on the court. There was a huge crowd cheering for my dad and I could hear ‘Way to go pops…nice shot pops’… that is a special memory for me."
In addition to the friendships and connections with others, Powless says he stays in the game because he wants to stay healthy. "I have heard some cardiologists say that one of the most physical activities you can do is play tennis." He goes on to say that tennis is a great activity "…if you are concerned about your well-being, have any desire to extend your life and keep yourself fit and in shape." In addition, Powless says the pride of participating is also important and although it sounds cliché, "I want to be as fit as I can be, so everyday I find a way to hit a tennis ball."
Many of us hope to still be active and playing tennis when we reach our 80s, let alone be the best player in the world. Powless actually was ranked #1 in two different age divisions at one time; in the Men’s 75 and the Men’s 80 divisions.
In addition to competitions, Powless stays busy managing the John Powless Tennis Center in Madison, Wis. The center has won several awards from the USTA for its service to the game and its work in the community, including league activities and lessons. "We do what we can to promote tennis and get people of all ages to participate," Powless said. "We recently had a decorated WWII pilot, 98 years old, visit us and he comes to play tennis."
Powless proves (as does his 98-year-old patron), that no matter what age, you can still find yourself in the game – a game that has given him strong family relationships, life-long friendships and good health. When asked how he’s doing today, Powless will most likely say… "I’m terrific… everyday is a great day!"
Note: learn more about the John Powless Tennis Center at www.johnpowlesstenniscenter.com/