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Jenna Esala wins redemption for Focus Sports Editor

Jenna Esala, New York Mills' top tennis player, helps hold me up for our championship photo after a long afternoon of grueling tennis at the Mills Celebrity Open. Photo by Greg Esala.1 / 3
Wits were matched when the "Johnny Mac" award winners Gary Salo and Shanna Pazdernick-Hensch, left, met "Fan Favorite" Heidi Dresser, third from left and partner Kristin Kane. Photo by Greg Esala.2 / 3
NY Mills Athletic Director and somehow named "Best Dressed" award winner Travis Hensch shows his best side on a serve at the Mills Celebrity Open. Photo by Greg Esala.3 / 3

The New York Mills third annual Celebrity Open tennis tournament, a fundraiser for the NY Mills Boosters Tennis Fund, was another entertaining success and not just because I won it.

The Lady Eagles tennis team partnered with teachers, parents, former players and community members for a very fun day of friendly doubles competition and "special" awards.

Thanks to the consistent efforts of Eagles' top singles player Jenna Esala and her willingness to chase anything down in the backcourt leaving me to own our opponents at the net, I left New York Mills feeling vindicated after a second place finish at last year's Open.

I had been waiting all year for this tournament. I went to sleep early. I even thought about working out the week prior to prepare. A couple times over the past 12 months, I even pondered stringing my Wilson Hammer, instead of showing up with my beat up back-up racquet. None of those things happened.

Our road to the championship was not easy. We had to take out the consolation champs, fellow newsman, Steve Schulz, the editor and publisher of the Wadena Pioneer Journal and his lovely wife Erin Bishop-Schulz in the second round.

Abby Salo and Savannah Thompson gave us a scare in the first round.

The team of Williams/Esala was prone to slow starts giving up the first game in all matches except the final, which was won at love over Kori Salo and Mary Lee Legried, the owner of the most pace on a serve anyone saw all day.

The semifinal match between the father/daughter combo of Rich and Krista Guldseth proved to be the most competitive as Williams/Esala were forced to battle from behind 2-1, to take the four-game no-ad set 4-2.

"Take it easy on me, I'm 50," Rich Guldseth said.

I managed to trump him by only being a decade behind. In fact, I gave him a little more effort just for the begging.

Guldseth was awarded the ageless wonder award and I hope he keeps playing so I don't have to take that trophy home one year for being the "most experienced" participant.

Aside from the tennis, distractions were all around on and outside the courts. From Head Coach Gary Bach's inconsistent play-by-play via megaphone and constant advice or color commentary on the occasional wayward shot, to the laughs from the gallery, which can be taunting, or at the very least, mildly embarrassing while playing, in a humorous manner, of course.

Without Bach, the tournament would not exist and when asked what the best part of my sports reporting job is, I go through the many accomplishments of both Perham and NY Mills athletic teams, but at the end, I always say, "the best part of my job is the Mills Celebrity Open."

Where else can one see the Athletic Director playing tennis in a skirt?

For his efforts, Travis Hensch was named best dressed. When asked why he didn't bother to at least shave his legs for the outfit, Hensch stated, "It was cold this morning."

Meeting NY Mills' school faculty on a non-working basis is great and meeting new people even better.

This year's fan favorite, English teacher Heidi Dresser, was a crack-up of non-stop one-liners. Dresser kept the crowd in stitches on and off the court.

The team of Gary Salo and Shanna Pazdernick-Hensch, appropriately awarded the Johnny Mac Award for being the most menacing players on the court, filled their titles aptly holding games up with their inanities, even smashing racquets at one point.

They were given the broken racquets, along with their awards, to which, Pazdernick-Hensch excitedly stated, "Hey, we could bring these back next year!"

I hope they do break them again at the fourth annual Open.

A big thank you goes out to Greg Esala for being the photographer for the second year in a row. Esala snapped over 150 photos of the event, the best of which will be featured in a photo gallery on this week.

My biggest thank you goes to my partner Jenna for never mentioning I was swearing after each miss the first match and during warm-ups. Her lack of acknowledgement made me stop and concentrate on tennis and being polite.

Without her, I was just a winded and out-of-shape hooligan hitting the occasional overhead over the fence.

Big thanks to Abby Salo for running the 50 yards outside the courts to retrieve my most inaccurate of shots.

As I found this year, next year's Celebrity Open will be here in no time. It seems time speeds up with age, except the recovery time from activity to a lethargic former tennis player.

At the end of the day, I felt pretty good. Sunday I stiffened a little. Monday morning, I could barely get in the car without audible groans.

I swear, before next year's tournament, I'm going to do some kind of exercise.

I am definitely coming back to defend my title and hope for a bigger crowd to witness the beginning of my NY Mills tennis dynasty.

Open Results:

The Champs - Jenna Esala/Robert Williams

2nd - Kori Salo/Mary Lee Legried

3rd - Krista Guldseth/Rich Guldseth

4th - Jordin Roberts/DuWayne Roberts

Consolation Champs - Steve Schultz/Erin Bishop-Schultz

6th - Abby Salo/Savannah Thompson

7th - Shanna Pazdernick-Hensch/Gary Salo

8th - Guro Reinaas/Travis Hensch

Other Doubles Entrants:

Kristin Kane/Heidi Dresser

Emily Blomberg/Trina Saewert

Megan Dow/Darin Wegscheid

Jewelle Boe/Tabetha Boe

Haley Hoffman/Bryan Dunrud

Mallory Weber/Jason Boe

Erik Selander/Tommy Selander

Cody Clarksean/Theresa Ehnert

Special Awards:

Fan Favorite = Heidi Dresser

Best Dressed = Travis Hensch

Ageless Wonder = Rich Guldseth

Johnny Mac = Gary Salo/Shanna Pazdernick-Hensch

Robert Williams

Sports Editor at the Detroit Lakes Tribune. Williams worked prior as the Sports Editor in Perham for the Focus, a Forum Communications newspaper, from 2010-14. 

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