Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - May 13, 2011

Getting Stanford ready to host NCAA tennis championships has been a labor of love

by Rick Eymer

Dick Gould walks the grounds of the Taube Family Tennis Center daily, practically obsessing over every little detail, noting things that seem invisible to the casual observer. He wants this year's NCAA men's and women's team and individual tournaments to be the best yet and he's leaving almost nothing to chance.

Jenny Claypool is in her 11th year as Stanford's Director of Championships, a daunting task even in the leanest of years. Stanford plays host to between 15 and 18 events a year and she's in charge of making sure things runs smoothly.

She's already helped put together major NCAA, Pac-10 and/or Mountain Pacific Sports Federation championship events in women's volleyball, women's soccer, men's water polo, women's basketball, and men's golf, among others.

Not even the coaches and players who will call Taube Family Tennis Center home for 12 days beginning May 19 have an idea of the extent to which Gould, Claypool, Brian Risso of the Sports Information Department and the hundreds of others have gone to make these championships a unique experience.

"It's like having the Orange Bowl here, with Stanford in it, and it lasts for 12 days," Gould said. "The idea is to make this more special than any event ever. The players and coaches don't know the full extent of what's going on here. There's a ton of stuff going on."

The event itself is like the tip of an iceberg. Fans will see just a fraction of the work that went into making the tournament work. Stanford is given an internal operating budget and Gould said the tennis programs have helped raise even more funds to help produce a major event.

The most visible to fans are the video scoreboards, the ability to follow any of the matches no matter where you are located, and the entrance way from the corner of Galvez and Campus Drives into the stadium, where kiosks honor every past NCAA Rookie of the Year, Senior of the Year and All-American.

Live music will be performed daily at the Heritage Columns, while scoreboards along the arcade will be constantly updated. Through Gould's eyes there's a festive, colorful atmosphere outside the stadium and the excitement of college tennis being contested inside the stadium beginning at 9 a.m. every day.

"It's not like the traditional tennis tournament where fans clap politely," Gould said. "When you get college teams in here playing you get an incredible atmosphere. You don't get that during the regular season. The teams that get here have earned their way and it's electric."

The video display features a 'Gallery of Champions' Interactive Kiosk, donated by Laurence Korn to honor Stanford men's coach John Whitlinger, the 1974 NCAA singles and doubles champion.

The kiosk features numerous past matches captured on video and transferred to DVD involving a Stanford player from 1979 to the present.

ESPN put together a highlight program of all the NCAA championships the network has televised.

JR Keenan if Intelligence, Inc. is the mastermind behind the system, which also features four separate television screens.

"He makes it work," Gould said. "He's very talented and has worked for HP Pavilion, ESPN and Cisco Labs."

Jane Goodman and Jim Russell are in charge of the umpires while Amelia Barnes will make sure there are ballboys and ballgirls for the team semifinals and finals and the individual beginning with the quarterfinals.

More than 400 volunteers will be on hand at some point during the event, including court monitors, ushers and handymen.

Gould coached the men's team to xx national titles and has envisioned hosting both men's and women's team and individual tournaments at the same site for some time. Stanford became the first school to do so in 2006. It's been done that way ever since.

Gould broached the subject to the men's committee only after stepping down from full-time coaching. He remains Stanford's Director of Tennis.

Claypool joined the Stanford athletic department by chance in the summer of 1990. The Menlo-Atherton High grad earned a bachelor's degree in Foreign Studies from Smith College and after learning of such a major, she returned to school at Massachusetts-Amherst for a degree in sports management.

"I was never an athlete but I always enjoyed sports," she said. "At first I thought I would go into Foreign Services. I spent a year abroad in Ecuador and loved it. But I always worked for the athletic department at Smith College."

After earning her second degree, Claypool went to work for the San Jose Giants for a year. Following her last day of work she went up to the Stanford Ticket Office to buy a ticket to the football season-opener a week away.

"I happened to see a 'Help Wanted' sign while I was in line," Claypool said. "I figured I was out of work that Monday and decided to ask about it."

She was hired on the spot for an hourly wage, worked four hours that same day selling tickets and answering phones. The rest is, of course, history.

Claypool worked closely with Stanford administrator Beth Goode, who also serves on a handful of NCAA committees and Anne Gould, Dick's wife, to work out details.

"I couldn't do it without Beth. She's a great resource," said Claypool, a statement echoed by both Dick Gould and Rizzo.

The day the final 16 teams clinch their spots at the NCAA finals, a package will be handed to the coach containing the team hotel, practice times (and where), match times, the host family, contact information and directions. Claypool has been working on the tennis tournament since last summer.

"I have tunnel vision right now," Claypool said. "I'm not sure if I can see the light at the end yet, but I'm inside the tunnel, focused on the end."

Keeping busy will not be a problem for any visitor, and particularly for the teams. There are 32 families set to host a team for dinner. That's in addition to the welcome dinner, involving upwards of 450 people, to be held inside Maples Pavilion. There's also a welcome brunch for the individual players.

Stanford is also hosting an Alumni weekend, which will include a tennis tournament at Alpine Hills Tennis Club open to any NCAA alumnus.

The USTA and USPTA is putting on a College Day in Kissick Auditorium for prospective college tennis players, breaking down the recruiting process, the rules and additional information.

The USTA will also be holding its board meeting in conjunction with the tournament.

Practices will be taking place on the eight courts at the West Campus site (near the Stanford Golf Course), three courts at Escondido Village, another three at the SCRA (Stanford recreation) and more at Foothill Tennis Club on campus.

"It's going to be great," Gould said, "as long as it doesn't rain."

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