Why do we love sports?
Is it the excitement? The suspense? The escape from our everyday lives? The shared experience?
The common denominator is emotion. Nostalgia, even.
We love sports because of the people. And I only recently realized that it really is that simple.
My dad played tennis when he was growing up and he introduced me to the sport when I was young. But tennis was only reserved for summers at our local park, when Mother Nature allowed. That was the extent of it.
But in my early teens, our neighbourhood tennis instructor, who was a volunteer at the Rogers Cup, gave me and my Dad tickets to the tournament. I was so excited. I’d never seen live tennis before. We watched Andy Roddick on Centre Court. I couldn’t believe how close we were, but those kids, who looked like they were my age, running after the balls and fetching the players’ towels, were even closer.
“How’d they get that job?” I wondered. A quick Google search gave me my answer. Little did I know, but some of those kids would become lifelong friends. I joined “ball crew” the following summer.
Ball crew was like summer camp. We were a close-knit group. The tournament grounds were our playground. When we weren’t on court, we easily kept ourselves busy, whether it was with wall-ball, holding our own ball crew Olympics, or sneaking into the stands to watch matches as we poorly attempted to stifle our giggles amongst a polite tennis crowd.
Eventually, those kids grew up and got jobs. A doctor, a police officer, a real estate agent, a consultant, a chartered accountant, an engineer – regardless of the profession or circumstance – we still come back to the tournament; that’s what vacation days are for. Some run the ball crew, others manage practice court scheduling or work in player hospitality. Our group of friends has grown over the years as we’ve gotten to know more returning volunteers and tournament staff. We get together throughout the year, often meeting at our regular pub. We’ve even travelled together, using different tournaments as an excuse for a vacation. We love it because we love it together.
But on April 23, 2018, tragedy struck. One of our friends, Anne Marie D’Amico, was one of the 10 people killed in the Toronto van attack on Yonge St.
She was one of us, and then she was gone. It didn’t seem real then and it still doesn’t today.
None of us knew how to handle the loss, but at least we had each other. We cried together, talked, listened, shared stories, and yes, we even laughed. Anne Marie always made us laugh. She was so genuinely funny and had an amazing ability to make everyone around her feel comfortable. You smiled when you heard her voice or her laugh coming down the hall, as you knew that you were seconds away from being greeted with a big hug. And if you needed to talk, she was there to listen. I miss those talks. And we all miss her.
The same familiar faces we’d see every summer at the tournament, we saw at Anne Marie’s funeral. The Rogers Cup family was truly that. After the service, none of us quite new what to do, so we returned to our usual pub for lunch. The circumstance was strange, but the routine was comforting.
Last year was the first tournament without her. An event that brought us so much joy, suddenly served as a reminder of who was lost. But it was still nice to see everyone, including the D’Amicos.
Anne Marie was the youngest link in a Rogers Cup volunteer family dynasty. Her grandmother Franca and mother Carmela volunteer in guest services. Her father Rocco is a driver for the players while her brother Nick runs the ball crew. As a family, the D’Amicos will reach 92 combined years of service this tournament.
Last year, a $2,500 scholarship was announced in Anne Marie’s name. Each year it will be awarded to a deserving ball kid in Montreal and Toronto the week of the tournament. A volunteer customer service award will also be handed out annually at the Toronto tournament in her name.
On Dec. 3, 2018, on what would have been Anne Marie’s 31st birthday, the D’Amico family launched a foundation in her name to help end violence against women. In 2019, donations will go to the North York Women’s Shelter to support the construction of a new shelter and community hub. On Dec. 3, 2019 a fundraising event will be held at the Toronto Centre For the Arts. Our Rogers Cup family will be there.
So, why do I love tennis? Because of the Rogers Cup. Because of the over 2,000 volunteers between Montreal and Toronto.
I love it because of the friendships it has fostered and the memories and experiences it continues to produce.
I love tennis because my friends love it and I love them.
If you would like to donate or learn more about The Anne Marie D’Amico Foundation, please visit: the website here.