Volunteers at Cup might get sweet benefit

  • Monday, March 25, 2013

Carol O'Connor, a Mount Pleasant resident and long-time Family Circle Cup volunteer, flips through one of her many tennis photo albums. STAFF PHOTO BY TYLER HEFFERNAN

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Stories about grandmothers are generally awesome. Maybe it's their attempts to use Twitter or the difference between their high school clothes and those of a typical 16 year old today.

Stories from grandmothers are better. And, Mount Pleasant resident Carol O'Connor has loads of 'em.

“I like baking and giving out chocolate chip cookies and telling corny jokes,” the 78 year old said, flipping through about a dozen photo albums from decades of U.S. Open tennis tournaments and Family Circle Cup events.

Tennis superstars like Billie Jean King, Andre Agassi, the Williams sisters, Martina Navratilova and Andy Roddick make multiple appearances. Celebrities such as Chevy Chase, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Jenner, Jackie Kennedy, Wilt Chamberlain and Julius Irving can also be found.

“Autographs don't mean anything to me,” she said. “I just enjoy taking pictures.”

Since the Family Circle Cup has arrived in Daniel Island from Hilton Head in 2001, O'Connor has volunteered during the prestigious tournament every year. She's also attended the U.S. Open every year since 1975 with only three exceptions.

Nearly 600 volunteers are accepted for roles in guest services, player lounge, transportation, ticket office, food and beverage, court maintenance and others.

O'Connor will report to the player's lounge this year just as she has done for 12 years. “I died and went to tennis heaven,” she said, trying to decribe being up-close to so many tennis greats.

“I call it 'Mommy duty,'” she said. “We clear the tables, fill the soda machines, bring tickets to will-call.”

As you might expect, some professional athletes are especially grateful, while others don't seem to notice. O'Connnor's personal favorite was Justine Henin, a former No. 1 ranked women's player in the world.

“One of my biggest thrills was Justine Henin because I got to know her,” O'Connor said. “She said hello to me and gave me a hug. Here I was hugged by No. 1 in the world.”

Henin won the Cup title in 2003 and 2005. She earned a sizeable trophy and paycheck – this year's purse is $750,000 – and she got some extra sweets from the tournament's unofficial grandmother.

Before the Belgian phenom played a match, she told O'Connor, who bakes more than 600 cookies to privately disperse throughout the week, to bring her a bag of the chocolate chip variety after she finished playing. O'Connor happily obliged and met her as she was being driven back to the player's lounge in a golf cart.

Henin asked O'Connor to hop in the cart with her. O'Connor said she was reluctant because that wasn't allowed of volunteers, but adhering to player requests is one of the ultimate goals.

Henin retired in 2011 due to an extensive elbow injury, so O'Connor will quietly root for Christina McHale this year, because they're both from New Jersey. Although McHale isn't favored, being under the watchful eye of O'Connor has a potentially sweet benefit.

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