From Teammates To Family
After receiving an email from Kathryn Villarreal, captain of the Clovis North High School W3.5 team (Fresno), talking about the struggles her team had overcome to get to Sectionals and how tennis had played a huge part in connecting these women, their story was so compelling, it had to be told.
When the husband of team member Terri Lee was diagnosed with lung cancer over a year and a half ago, the news devastated the entire team. If this wasn’t tough enough, one of the team members, Joan Contino, was diagnosed with cancer as well before the District Championships this year. “With all the problems, challenges, and with cancer in our group, it has just rallied us even more,” said Doris Harpain. Co-Captain, proving nothing can bring this team down. “We’re always saying thank god we have tennis because it helps you get away from these kinds of things.”
On top of their personal struggles, the Fresno team had to battle to get to Sectionals as well. In fourth place with three matches left in the regular season, they rallied to qualify for the playoffs. “We had to win four matches in a row to qualify for Districts, I just love my teammates because you ask them to do stuff, and they just produce, it’s awesome,” Kathryn Villarreal, the Captain, gushes. Even though Terri’s husband, Bryan, was going through treatments at the time, he made sure to attend Districts to cheer the team on. “He just had brain surgery for a tumor and was going through chemotherapy, and radiation and he still came over here to watch,” Doris said astounded. Kathryn quickly added, “Every game! He came to every game!” The captains also mentioned that Bryan paid for tennis clinics to get the team ready for Sectionals on top of cheering them on. “His wife is there, he is rooting everybody on and I think it’s good for him to see his wife having this kind of support… it’s good for her that he is there supporting her as well so she feels that she can play and he is still there,” Doris explained.
As Doris and Kathryn commented, “Tennis has become so much more than just a sport. Even though they registered in a USTA NorCal team just to play, that team has become more than that: they are a family. “You’re getting support and you’re able to concentrate on tennis and forget about everything else, so I think the rewards that tennis has given me have been so much greater than what I’ve been able to give tennis,” Doris laughed.
That statement rings through as the team supports Joan through her own cancer battle. Through tough times, tennis has brought relief, peace, and support so Joan doesn’t go through this alone. “Joan is such an amazing person, her husband died of lung cancer and she feels alone without him being there to support her because she went through it with him for so long, but we’re all telling her that she is not alone, she has us, she does,” Doris reveled. Because Joan will have to stop playing tennis once her treatments start, her captain encouraged her to keep playing for now, and as long as she can. “I told her ‘you got to grasp all your opportunities now, you love to play tennis … [so don’t miss out. You’re able to do it now and you’re goanna have to be laying down for a while after your procedure,’” Kathryn recalled. Joan did travel to Sectionals, played, and enjoy a great weekend of tennis and friends, before she starts treatment.
It is amazing to see the bound this team has created and how tennis has brought people with completely different backgrounds together. Through personal obstacles, tennis obstacles, and more, they can’t thank tennis enough for making it happen. As an example, the entire team was at Sectionals even the players who knew they might not be playing, just so they can cheer on their teammates. Their passion has no limits “no matter what obstacles come in our way, we’re there for each other on the and off the court now, we’ve fallen in the FAM-I-LEE (the way Terri and Bryan Lee call themselves) deal now, so we’re making it happen!” Kathryn proudly says.