A record-setting crowd of more than 180 attendees jammed the Boca Grande Club for the fifth annual Tennis Ball Jan. 23.
At least 60 percent of every $100 ticket sold supports the Suncoast Humane Society. Phil Snyder, executive director of the Suncoast Humane Society, said more than $38,000 was raised with more dollars still to come during the seven weeks of tennis.
"We think it will be upward of $40,000 when all the tennis is done," Snyder said.
Phil Snyder, executive director of the Suncoast Humane Society, entering his sixth year.
Animal lovers of every stripe were represented.
"I'm a dog lover and I have three Labradors," said Nat Italiano of Boca Grande. "I just want to see these animals taken care of."
"We're new to the area but we have a lot of passion for animals," said Michelle Fede of Port Charlotte, a retired U.S. Air Force officer. "We have a 30-year-old blue-fronted Amazon parrot."
Organizer and Boca Grande Club tennis director James Labinski said the evening was filled with wine, cocktails, music and dancing along with bidding on wine and jewelry baskets, tennis and golf packages, art and photography. Top silent auction items included: $10,000 initiation fee for Boca Grande Club, $4,200 bottle of 1964 Petrus Bordeaux, $2,715 golf packages, $1,200 Adirondack chairs and a $1,000 tasting starring Chef Greg Foos.
The benefit signals the beginning of the seven-week Professional Tennis Exhibition Series, which will feature four Boca Grande pros: Tucker Lang of the Boca Grande Clubl first-timer Jamie Thormann of Gasparilla Inn & Club; former champ H Wetzel, director of tennis at Boca Bay Pass Club; and former champ Steve Ethier of the Boca Bay Pass Club.
Admission to any of the 15th annual tennis competition is an optional $5 donation, which goes to Suncoast Humane Society. All exhibition matches begin at 4 p.m. at the Boca Grande Club on the following dates:
Jan. 30: Opening round of the Professional Tennis Exhibition Series: David Siddons, tennis director at the Plantation Golf and Country Club in Venice; Kalani Hatori, tennis director at the Pelican Bay Golf and River Club in Estero; Denny Rager, director of tennis at the Players Club and Spa in Naples; and Jim Dempsey, director of tennis at the Courtside Racket Club in Venice. Results unavailable at press time.
Feb. 6: Second opening round: Abdul Idi, assistant at the River Strand in Bradenton; Thormann,; Jared Kalpin, head pro at The Landings in Fort Myers; and Wetzel.
Feb. 13: Third opening round.
Feb. 20: Final opening round.
Feb. 27: First semifinal match.
March 6: Final semifinal match.
March 13: Finals.
A barbecue and street party will complete the eight-week long celebration of tennis and animals. The $15 street party tickets can be purchased at any tennis match.
Total prize money is $5,000, with $1,000 going to the champion. For more information, call the Boca Grande Club pro shop at 964-2211.