SHERIDAN — Lorna Brooks even surprised herself. Well, she somewhat surprised herself. The Sheridan native traveled to La Jolla Beach, California, a few weeks ago to compete in the United States Tennis Association tournament.
Brooks has played in this tournament for nearly a decade, but this time around she elected to do something different. Instead of only competing in doubles alongside her friend, Brooks elected to give the singles a try, as well.
And she’ll continue to play singles as she looks to defend her 80-and-over title that garnered her a popular nickname.
“I didn’t expect to win, but I didn’t expect to lose, either,” Brooks said. “… They brought me to center court and gave me my award and called me the dark horse from Wyoming.”
Brooks has made tennis her life. She grew up in Alhambra, California, where she began playing as a junior before a move east to Covina, California.
Brooks played in well-recognized tournaments such as the U.S. Open, traveling all over the country to do so, until she turned 18 and went off to college. Tennis become an afterthought for Brooks until her mid 20s when she and her husband, whom she met at Oregon State, needed a little extra cash after opening their own pharmacy in California.
“When you open your own business, you don’t make any money for a while,” Brooks said. “So I started giving tennis lessons, and gradually I started playing again.”
Brooks and her husband built a life in California for quite some time. But with the population booming, the state’s dynamic changing and significant portions of the family moving away, the two decided to relocate.
With three of their four sons residing in Sheridan, the Brooks loaded up the car and moved to play a larger role in their grandchildren’s lives. Tennis lessons, which were a source of extra income for the Brooks, blossomed into a coaching opportunity at Sheridan High School where she instilled her knowledge on the Broncs and Lady Broncs for nine years.
However, the competitive itch for Brooks remained. So when an old friend from Fresno gave Brooks a call imploring her to play in the USTA tournament nearly a decade ago, Brooks obliged.
For years Brooks played doubles in the 70-and-over division, never placing better than fifth. When the 80th birthday rolled around, Brooks wanted to see if she still had the capacity to compete in singles.
She entered the USTA National Women’s Senior Hard Court Championships unseeded and knocked off top-seeded Dorothy Wasser in the title match to bring home the crown.
Brooks plans to compete in the national tournament as long as she physically can.
In the meantime, she’ll carry on her life in Sheridan where the sport of tennis never stays too far from her.
Brooks helped raise money and open the Sheridan Indoor Tennis Center at Thorne-Rider Park, a process that took more than a decade. That’s also the location where Brooks gives many of her lessons.
Ever since her coaching days, Brooks’ keeps receiving calls from people wanting to learn or improve in the sport of tennis. She has given high-schoolers lessons and youngsters such as Merritt Ehrmantraut and others.
Ehrmantraut has learned a great deal from Brooks.
What started as a way to improve and compete better with her cousins, has blossomed into a love for the sport and an ever-advancing skill set.
“I’m not really a competitive person, but I have gotten better,” Ehrmantraut said. “I haven’t beaten (Brooks) yet, I’m getting closer. For the first time, maybe a month ago, I got one point on her.”
Brooks didn’t intend to give lessons this far into her life, but she enjoys it.
“I love seeing young people play tennis,” Brooks said. “I love watching them improve, and I also love encouraging them. As a coach, you can be very encouraging, and I like that.”
Tennis has played an integral part in Brooks’ life. Whether it was competing at a high level as a junior, or as a means for income as a young adult or as a way to connect with old friends, Brooks has never stayed too far from a tennis ball and a racket.