For the past three weeks, some members of the Capital Tennis Association (CTA) have been training for this weekend's 14th annual Capital Classic Tournament by taking part in ''boot-camp'' style drill sessions. But they're not doing it just to win.
''It's a charity event,'' says participant and fundraising coordinator Michael Hunston. ''Despite the fact that a lot people may play because they love the sport or competition, I'm playing in the tournament because it's a way to give back to the community.''
According to Capital Classic Director Walker Chaffin, CTA, a local not-for-profit organization that coordinates and promotes tennis in the gay community, last year raised about $7,000 for the Whitman-Walker Clinic's Lesbian Services Program. This year, organizers are lending a helping hand to the Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League (SMYAL).
The Capital Classic starts Saturday, Oct. 21, at the Tennis Center at College Park, in College Park, Md. Some matches will also be played at the East Potomac Tennis Center at Hains Point, in Southwest D.C. The international event, which draws participants from as far away as Germany, is geared toward tennis players of all five playing levels -- with Open as the top level, followed by A, B, C and D.
''Anybody can come and play at the tournament,'' Chaffin says. ''Even if you haven't picked up a racket before -- we have a division for beginners.''
Hunston plays tennis in the B division, and has played in tournaments for nearly a decade. He was the winner of the 2001 Capital Classic B singles division. Hunston say he doesn't mind losing during a charity event, but he is still competitive.
''When you're playing tennis, especially when you are playing singles, you are considered to be out there on your own, so it's nice to realize the things you work for and work on while you are playing. Competition serves that satisfaction.''
The tournament is a social event for Chip Hines, a senior administrative coordinator at Inova Health Systems in Northern Virginia, who plays in the D division. Hines has found many close friends since taking up tennis recreationally last year.
''There's the fitness side of the game, but the social side is more important to me,'' he says. ''My closest friends are ones that I met through the CTA.''
The event has grown since the initial tournaments in the early '90s, which usually featured nine tennis courts. This year, organizers booked a total of 300 hours on 27 courts at two different locations. They were also forced to close registration early after all 215 spots were filled.
''The response was amazing,'' Chaffin says. He credits the work of CTA's many volunteers and the event's two signature sponsors, Brandon Green & Associates and Stoney Creek Farm, for making the group's biggest annual event possible. The tournament will also debut a new social gathering for the players this year, an open bar banquet Sunday evening at the Human Rights Campaign building.
One of 40 gay and lesbian tennis clubs around the world, CTA is a member of the Gay and Lesbian Tennis Alliance, an international group that manages and sanctions the gay and lesbian tennis tournament circuit.
It's that scope that makes Capital Classic a special event, says Chaffin.
''We do tournaments for just our league, but this tour is part of the gay circuit all over the world.''
For more information about the Capital Classic or CTA, visit www.capital-tennis.org.