Thursday, February 5, 2004

These Clydesdales can play

Tennis tournament pits XXXL doubles teams

By Neil Schmidt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] Ken Munson (right) and Lance McLean practice for the Clydesdale Open
(Mike Simons photo)
Arnie Jones finished his Ohio State football career 29 years ago in the Rose Bowl. Saturday, though, he'll don a Buckeye jersey and feel that old, competitive fire ignite.

Never mind that the former linebacker has grown to 286 pounds and will be toting a tennis racket. He'll fit in with the other XXXL-size guys in Spider-Man outfits or camouflage gear swatting overheads.

Welcome to the Clydesdale Open, dubbed "the world's largest tennis tournament." As in, 32 doubles teams weighing approximately 71/2 tons, often in costume, blending a tennis tournament with an all-you-can-eat buffet and karaoke party.

The 12th annual event, Friday and Saturday at The Club at Harper's Point, requires its doubles teams to have a combined minimum weight of 425 pounds. Organizers bring in a meat scale and play up the weigh-in, even lauding the biggest team with their Big Hoss award.

"We celebrate our weight," tournament founder and president Ken Munson said. "We don't hide from it."

Jones and Mike Myers, both from Columbus, took that title last year at 597 pounds. But Jones, who plays tennis three to four times a week, is the embodiment of this event's surprising truth: These big boys can play.

"Some people come in expecting to see a lot of lumbering, but they see good athletes who are just big," said Jones, 50, who played one year in the Canadian Football League.

"This is for fun, but it's still ultra-competitive. You'll see guys throwing rackets."

Munson, 55, began the event in 1993 because, he said, at 255 pounds he tired of losing to players who simply outlasted him because they were skinnier.

"Twelve years later," he said, "I've found a lot of guys my size that can beat me."

The first event had 12 teams, and Munson donated the proceeds to charity. Within two years, the event had grown to 32 teams - four divisions of eight, divided by skill level - with a waiting list.

Munson expanded the event by calling on big-name players for a pro-am and clinic, and to donate items for a celebrity auction. Marty Riessen and Ross Case will appear this year, and legends like Roy Emerson, Fred Stolle and Dick Stockton have done so in the past.

Other athletes who have played in the event include Paul O'Neill, Ted Power and former Bengals Anthony Munoz, Tim Krumrie and Bob Johnson. Over the years, the Clydesdale has raised nearly $350,000 for charity, Munson said. Most of that goes to Inner City Youth Opportunities, which uses tennis to empower at-risk children, and Young Life, a Christian youth organization.

Munson, 55, has signed a three-year contract to have The Tennis Channel air the event, beginning in 2005. His future plans include expanding it to other cities so winners could advance to a national championship, and beginning a golf scramble for 800- and 1,000-pound foursomes.

But back to the light-hearted nature of this event:

Why "Clydesdale?" It's an extra-large horse. Winners' trophies are adorned with a horse's rear end.

Can women play? Yes, but only one ever has: former pro Brenda Schultz-McCarthy, who played with her husband, Sean, a former University of Cincinnati football player.

What was the heaviest team? The record of 612 pounds was set in 1995 by Jim Wycoff (247 pounds) and Sam Podolak (365).

As of Wednesday, there were still openings for four teams. The public is invited to attend, and there's no admission charge. Food and drinks, provided by sponsors, are free both nights. (There's a charge for alcohol.)

And oh, what a feast. Barbeque, meatballs, chicken wings, chili, spaghetti, beer. Etc.

"No rabbit food for these guys," Munson said.

If you go

What: Clydesdale Open.

Where: The Club at Harper's Point, 8675 E. Kemper Road, Symmes Township (call Carole Meldon at 513-489-9700 for info).

When: Friday - Tennis Legends Pro-Am, 6:15 p.m. Saturday - Tennis Legends Breakfast Clinic featuring Marty Riessen and Ross Case ($50 per player), 9 a.m.; clinic for inner-city kids, 11 a.m.; Clydesdale competition, 4 p.m.; celebrity auction, 9 p.m.; karaoke party, 10 p.m.


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