By Randy Walker
Rivalries are what make tennis – and sports in general – great.
John McEnroe vs. Ivan Lendl. Martina Navratilova vs. Chris Evert. Pete Sampras vs. Andre Agassi.
In my high school playing days, the big rivalry was my team, the Rams of New Canaan High School, against the Blue Wave of Darien High School. New Canaan and Darien are heated rivals across the board, both being affluent suburban New York City towns situated next to each other in southwestern Connecticut.
I recently stumbled across some of the articles I wrote during my early writing career that included a summary of what was an epic Fairfield County team semifinal match from my junior year in 1986 between New Canaan and Darien where I competed. It was amazing to find the story typed up on a typewriter (this was just when the personal computer began being used). It was fun to recollect old times – and remember some of the behaviors of being a teenager. The story is shared below…
“Let’s Party Naked” – New Canaan vs. Darien, 1986
When many of you think of some of the all-time greatest tennis matches you may remember titanic battles between John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg or Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova but does New Canaan versus Darien ever come to mind? Throughout the history of interscholastic tennis at New Canaan High School the Rams and the Blue Wave have waged some monumental confrontations. The 1986 FCIAC semifinal match between the two might be classified as one of the most exciting, electric and enthusiastic meetings.
What I had observed as a member of the New Canaan team was that the Ram squad possessed a very confident attitude and were somewhat cocky after accomplishing a 14-0 regular season. One cannot be called modest placing bets on who would off get off the court fastest or challenging opposing coaches to matches. I was so confident that, in fact, I had transformed the hood of my car into a beach complete with sand courtesy of Kiwanis Park, towels, beach furniture and a Mickey Mouse baby pool in an attempt to enjoy our victory over our rivals even further.
After the music to “We Will Rock You” drowned out, the Darien squad exited their bus sporing Ellesse team uniforms with the exception of one who chose to wear a “Party Naked” T-shirt.
The first matches to go out on the famed slanted courts at the Saxe Middle School were the five singles matches. The French Davis Cup team of the 1920s may have had their renowned Four Musketeers consisting of Rene Lacoste, Henri Cochet, Jean Borotra and Jacques Brugnon but we had our “Fab Five” – Eric Hargrove, Roger Carbonier, Todd Hargrove, Rob Wilson and Rob Blanchard. We cruised to a quick 3-0 lead in the matches as Eric, Rog and Todd won straight-set matches. It looked as though the tie was quite secure with us only needed one match to advance into the FCIAC Championship but… Rob Blanchard was defeated at No. 5 singles position and Rob Wilson was just beginning the third set with the player on the Darien team with the nickname of “Dogger.” The possible origin of this nickname stirred our team and we left it as whereabouts unknown.
Wilson’s match was not was not only highlighted with endless baseline rallies but the vocal contest waged between Wilson and the Darien fans. “Beat this wimp” was heard quite often as the lanky Wilson became insulted and angry at the Darien team, especially at the Wave member in the “Party Naked” T-shirt who seemed to lead the antagonistic jeers. When Wilson finally succumbed to “Dogger,” the Darien side of the court erupted in cheers and taunts
Now with the score Rams 3, Blue Wave 2, with the two doubles matches remaining, we were not as confident as before. My doubles partner Mark Piotrowski and I now took the stage for our No. 2 doubles match against Scott Glassmeyer and Tom Dobson. The relationship between the two opposing duos was similar to the association between American Davis Cup players and South American fans as we had defeated the tandem earlier in the year in a crucial match. The sun must’ve had an effect on our foes’ eyes because the ultraviolet rays may have made them see bullseye targets on our bodies. We thought we would be generous in warm up and threw up some lobs for them to practice their overheads with, not knowing that they would be launched back at us, striking our rear ends with a terrific force. As I was struck, I looked through the wiry, rusty fence only see those two blaring words… “Party Naked.”
“Yeah,” he sneered. “Nice shot Glass,” alluding to Glassmeyer’s alleged wild overhead which happened to have wounded me. “Pio” and I could not mirror the outcome of a prior match as we were defeated 7-6, 6-4.
Darien and New Canaan were now tied 3-3 with one match remaining. Our No. 1 doubles team consisted of the of the two siblings masters – who else but the Hargroves. Fear spread throughout the once rambunctious Ram fans as the Wave took the first set 6-2. Was this where our perfect season would be tarnished by the hands of our arch rivals? The entire season – the 14 wins with no losses - will be worth nothing if we did not come through with this victory. This must’ve gone through Todd and Eric’s minds as they commenced the second set. Maybe it was them thinking of the destruction of the perfect season that enabled them to pull out the second set or was it some supernatural force? The rest of our squad, being tortured into this possible destruction of our season, began to be the least bit superstitious and silly.
“Put your watch on the right hand will you! The left hand is bad luck. What a minute Pio. When you were sitting between Blanche and I the Hargroves won the last two games so get your butt down to the hood of this car and in between us before they start losing some more games.” said the desperate Ram players to each other.
Was this ridiculousness or what? Actually I shouldn’t be talking. In the crucial second and third sets, I would sit on my car when New Canaan was serving and when Darien served, I sat with the rest of the team. Call me a weirdo but it worked. After about a dozen match points, the Hargroves finally put away Darien. A jubilant New Canaan squad congratulated the brothers and we were gracious in victory while Darien did not act like sore losers. But before we left to go home and rest up for FCIAC Championship match with Greenwich, which we won 5-2, one of the mothers demanded that we pose on the hood of my car for a team photo. While we nusselled for position on a fender or windshield wiper, the Wave began to board their bus. Wilson, still sore over his loss and the treatment he received during the match, started exclaiming “Let’s Party Naked!”