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Tennis strokes and a pod of pelicans

I haven’t had a chance to watch tennis like I once did, but I’ve always loved the Grand Slam events, especially Wimbledon. Maybe it’s because my earliest memories of great players are about the on-court exploits of the late Arthur Ashe and watching him become the first African-American to hoist the All-England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club’s silver platter back in 1975.

I’m also very proud of Venus and Serena, Coco and Danielle, Madison and Sloane, all the American women and the success they’re having on the grass of ‘Merrie Ol’ Englande’; especially Serena after being away from the game for a year on maternity leave.

There’s also been a bonus this year: an American man making the semi-finals, and on Wednesday afternoon, John Isner became only the fifth American since 2005 to make the semifinals of a major tournament as he stormed his way into the Wimbledon semis by beating Milos Raonic of Canada in four sets, two of which went to tiebreakers. It was a match of two huge guys booming serves like crazy on the vegetated surface. I’m writing this column early in the week, so whether Isner takes out the likes of Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic remains to be seen.

While I didn’t hear it mentioned on ESPN, you should know that Isner is a North Carolinian who hails from the Piedmont.

In fact, checking in with former NC High School Athletic Association information guru, the now-retired Rick Struck, I found out that Isner won the 2001 NCHSAA men’s 4A singles championship during his career at Greensboro Page High School.

Another esteemed sports encyclopedia when it comes to all things Carolinian, Earl Vaughan Jr. of the Fayetteville Observer tells us Isner also led his team to the dual team state title as well. The Pirates beat Fayetteville Terry Sanford High School 6-3 for the crown.

Earl recalls the Sanford doubles team of Stephen Mantzouris and Bryant Tran won the 4A doubles title the same year Isner was singles champ.

That was also the year Sanford beat a loaded Wilmington Hoggard in the 4A tennis doubles semis.

Isner went on to beat Mantzouris, one of the greatest players in the Tar Heel state at the time, 6-4, 7-5, in their dual team singles match,. Ironically, Mantzouris’ Wilmington connection continued as he went on to play for the UNCW Seahawks.

As the great Sports Illustrated writer Peter King once said, maybe that little tidbit of a factoid doesn’t matter to anyone but me, but it shows how I am.

Which brings me to my next little item: Thanks to something called ‘Wildlife Facts’ on the National Wildlife Federation’s web page, there is actually a name other than ‘flock’ for a group of pelicans.

If you’re familiar with the brown pelican, native to the Carolina coast, you can now refer to their collective gathering as a brief, pod, pouch, scoop, or a squadron.

Pouch and scoop I can understand because pelicans usually dive from above over the water onto a school of fish (usually a type of herring called menhaden) and snare them in its bill.

Pelicans don’t store fish in their pouch, but simply use it to catch the fish and then tip their bills back to drain out water and immediately swallow the fish in one gulp.

I found out the American white pelican can hold some three gallons of water in its bill. And young pelicans feed by sticking their bills into their mother’s throats to retrieve food.

I’ll bet you couldn’t learn that by watching Jack Hanna’s ‘Wild Kingdom’.

Now as for a squadron of pelicans … in case they’re diving, ladies, you’d better watch your hair, or maybe just don’t wear a fishnet.

 

Gene Motley is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at gene.motley@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7211.