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Still going after all this time

Seaton continues to play tennis well into his 90s

From left, Gregg Nominelli, Ken Seaton, and Josh and Caleb Katzinger pose after their tennis match during the Bridgefest Tennis Tournament on Saturday, June 15, in Hancock. (Photo submitted)

HOUGHTON — Most men his age have naturally slowed down and would be happy just to get up in the morning. However, that is not enough for 94-year-old Ken Seaton. Seaton just competed in the Bridgefest Tennis Tournament again this year, and he still loves to do it.

In fact, Seaton plays a lot of tennis, despite his age.

“I play all year long, so when everything works out, I play three days a week with about eight different guys, depending on summer or winter, and who’s available and who’s not,” he said. “They’re just very kind enough to include me in their group. Because I need somebody with younger legs that needs to cover more than half the court, my favorite partner right now is Gregg Nominelli.”

Seaton jokes that he can just stand there and let Nominelli do all the heavy lifting.

“So, Greg, I guess, is probably in his 60s, and so he covers the court very well, so we have a lot of fun,” Seaton said.

Whether he plays with Nominelli or not, Seaton still has fun with the sport whenever he plays.

“For some reason, we’re closely matched, regardless of which group of guys gets together, and how we team up,” he said. “So, it is fun. I look forward to it every day.”

Seaton first picked up the game when he was young. Actually, tennis was not something he was passionate about when he was younger. He had to develop enjoyment in the game.

“Well, I probably played when I was 10 years old, just kids picking up in the neighborhood,” he said. “We’d find a tennis ball, we’d go and find a tennis court, and we’d play. So, you could say it’s been off and on ever since then, but it became more important when I retired.

“In fact, my favorite game, it was really squash, but it’s a singles game. Eventually that became a problem. I played a lot of racquetball, paddle ball, and handball to start with, actually. The racket sports have been good to me.”

While he enjoys racket sports, especially the competitiveness of them, he finds that the relationships he has built through playing have meant the world to him.

“Because I’m a little bit competitive, I was looking for something like that,” he said. “It started with handball. Then (it is) the relationships with the people. You’d run into new people and say, ‘Well, what do you do? Do you play handball? Good. Maybe we could play together.'”

He found one such person who turned his focus towards tennis after they both retired.

“I can remember Paul Leach,” said Seaton. “Well, unfortunately, Paul has dementia now, and he doesn’t know much about what’s going on, but I can remember when he retired and came to Gloria Dei Church, and he’s the one that asked me, he said, ‘Do you play tennis?’ And I said, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘Then let’s get together.’ So, we found some other guys, and this had to be maybe 30 years ago, maybe not quite that much, but pretty close.”

From there, the pair found others.

“We did find a group of guys,” Seaton said. “Joel Storm was one from West Hancock and Bob Scholie. The names tend to disappear, but, even back then, 30 years ago, we had a group of probably eight or nine guys that would trade off and on. So we played then, not so much in the winter, but in the summertime, we played.

“I did join a league at Michigan Tech probably 30 years ago when I retired, and so I played Saturday mornings there, and there was a good group. The courts were filled.”

Seaton has found that tennis tends to be a cyclic sport in terms of player participation. In Nominelli, he has found a familiar partner, and the duo enjoy hitting the court together whenever possible.

“His dad, Bob Nominelli, the dentist, was a good friend,” Seaton said. “Our families were very close, and so to have Gregg come along (has been great). I don’t think he’d played a lot of tennis before, but once he got in with us, he just picked up the game so fast. He’s very consistent.”

That consistency was a great foil for how Seaton loved to approach the game.

“Tennis is a game of having the fewest unforced airs, because most points are not by a winning shot, they’re by the other side screwing up, hitting it into the net, or hitting it long,” he said. “Early on, Gregg was very consistent. He didn’t try and kill the ball. He didn’t try and make a great shot. He just got it back over the net. So, we clicked very well. I tend to prefer trying to make a winning shot.”

In their tennis matches during the week, Seaton and his friends pick a partner for the day and enjoy a two-set match.

“We mix them up, but if we discover one combination is not doing well at all, then we change it so that we get to be very even,” he said. “I would say we usually play two sets and it’s very usual for each side to win a set. We usually play a seven or 10-point tiebreaker to see who the champion is. Sometimes, one side can lose both sets and then we’ll play that seven-point tiebreaker, and the losers will win that, and then they are the champions. So it balances out.”

Seaton attributes his parents with being the reason he can still play the game.

“My longevity in the game is because I’ve been consistently playing something most of my life,” he said. “I’ve been very fortunate. I must have good genes, and my mother fed me well, so has my wife, so it was all good.”

Seaton has played in the Bridgefest tournament for over 20 years.

“I went back and found out that Joel Storm and I had won the tournament in 2004,” he said. “Then Mike Lahti and I won the tournament in 2007, so (my experience) at least goes back 20 years. We know that for sure, but it’s probably more like another 10.

“I can’t remember how it started, but the early tournaments, the Hancock Rotary Club was a sponsor, and I’m not sure who ran it, but we must have figured out a way to make it work. Mary Kaminski came in the last few years and has really done a nice job with it.”

This year, Seaton and Nominelli finished fourth in the tournament.

“It’s a double elimination, so I think we won our first two matches,” said Seaton. “Then in the third match, we actually were up 3-0, you play six for the set, but then we lost the next six games, and then we lost one more to the, I think, to the champions. But, it was fun. It really is.”

Half of the fun is the support the crowd gives the players, according to Seaton.

“We get a little bit of a crowd at these tournaments,” he said. “You know, family members come, spouses, and what have you.

“It gives you a little bit of a lift when you know they’re there, and then when a good point is made after a long rally, they clap. So, there’s applause that goes on. It’s very nice.”

Seaton said that he has tried pickleball, another wildly popular racket sport, which he enjoys, but he feels he is not ready to transition over to it full time just yet.

“My standard answer is, well, I like pickleball, but it’s an old person’s game,” he said. “When I get a little older, I’m going to go back to pickleball.”

Seaton says that, despite his age, he loves to get out of bed and start his day.

“That’s the easy part of it,” he said. “I really do feel good. I don’t have any aches and pains. I’ve got the normal aches and pains of arthritis, but all in all, I just feel good. Every day I look forward to getting up, and every night I look forward to going to bed. I am tired. I am ready, you know? The days, to me, are too short.

“There’s more things I want to do that I don’t have time to do, I don’t really have the strength to do, anymore. You’re making adjustments all the time, but I’m starting at a high level.”

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