They retired from their respective professions years ago.
After decades as teachers, businessmen and engineers, the gentlemen who make up Bradenton’s El Conquistador Racquet Club men’s tennis team stay active and healthy, chasing tennis balls and winning national championships.
Last week, the squad — consisting of men 60 years and older — captured the USTA Super Senior Men’s 8.0 National Championship in Surprise, Ariz.
“This is fun for us,” said team captain Bill King, a retired middle school principal. “It helps us stay moving and healthy, and we love the competition.”
The men won the district and regional championships in 2008 and had to wait a whole year to play for the national crown.
“We didn’t know if some of us would be around for it,” said King, who beat cancer a few years back. “So, we were kind of nervous about that, but we all made it out there.”
These nine men from Manatee County played teams who were able to choose the best players from 17 regions around the country.
It didn’t make a bit of difference because the chemistry of the “El Conquistador 9” was stronger than any forehand an opponent could hit at them.
“For us, that made it more special to win this, because it’s just a bunch of guys that play together all of the time,” said Jim McDonald, who spent many years in the business world. “The other teams played only six players, while we played all nine of our guys.”
In turn, the strategy kept the men energized and motivated to play in 90-degree weather.
But winning the national title wasn’t easy.
El Conquistador went 5-4 in individual matches and 2-1 in team competition, so every match was valuable, and every day’s final match determined which team would move on. At the end of every day, the “El Conquistador 9” was still standings.
“For 65-year-old men to run around in the hot sun for three hours means we are in pretty good shape,” said Butch Hill, a retired teacher and local tennis instructor.
As El Conquistador sealed a 2-1 victory over Team Texas to claim the national title, four Top-Gun fighter jets from a nearby U.S. Air Force base flew over the tennis courts, almost on cue with match point.
“I don’t know if it was planned,” McDonald said. “It was almost like we were at Disney World. It was absolutely magical. Everybody went crazy.”
Ryan T. Boyd, sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7017.