This year’s Volvo Car Open will be nothing but a televised memory on the Tennis Channel. There will be no fans nor volunteers allowed inside the tournament’s bubble due to COVID-19.
The difficult decision to suspend the volunteer program was made in April 2020 at the beginning of the global health pandemic. During the same time the tournament should have been in mid-swing for its 20th anniversary on Daniel Island, but unfortunately had to cancel as a safeguard.
“Our volunteers have always been the gateway for all of our guests,” tournament director Bob Moran said. “…They are absolutely the most important thing to us.”
But patrons of past tournaments have memories that stretch well beyond the social norms of the coronavirus. Some volunteers haven’t missed an event since the Family Circle Cup first came to Daniel Island in 2001.
“We have the best volunteers in the world,” Moran added. “Players and guests will all comment how they feel at home and welcome here and that’s because of the people we have on the front lines here.”
Normally, the week of the Volvo Car Open, volunteers are required to attend an orientation session to receive training prior to performing their task. Each volunteer must work a minimum of six shifts, each shift is approximately four to five hours, to receive a
tournament credential, a week-long meal pass and two complimentary tickets for the Power Shares event on the Saturday before the final day of the tournament.
Sadly, there will be no ushers, ticket takers, transportation personnel or assistance for player housing. It’s disappointing, but especially so for someone who hasn’t missed a tournament to date since it’s arrived on Daniel Island, and that’s resident Linda Common.
The early years were Common’s favorite because all the volunteers were so new and inexperienced that it made things fun to learn how it was all going to work.
As an usher, Common enjoyed controlling the ropes and socializing with players and fans. Even while she was working she always felt she had the best view in the house.
While working in player housing, Common noticed that a lot of the players stay with the same families on the island year after year. She estimated approximately 30 players in the tournament would take advantage of staying with a family and getting the full Daniel Island experience.
“We’re looking forward to next year. We were hoping it would be this year. Who would of thought it would have been two years?” Common added. “Next year we will be back out there bigger and better.”
To this day, Common still plays in UTSA senior women’s tennis leagues with her friends on the island.
However, there will still be a limited number of ball girls and ball boys to aid the players. At the top of that honorable list is Daniel Island resident Drew Bobey. The two-time Bishop England state champion and college tennis player, who recently graduated from
Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island, has served on the ball crew since 2006 at just 6 years old.
Drew’s mother Rona, who’s been volunteering since 2002, was working on making lanyards for patrons and needed someone to babysit Drew during the day. Drew was too young at the time to be a ball girl but that didn’t stop her as a rambunctious child.
Then co-chairperson of the ball crew, the late Sylvia Huskey, saw a lot of potential and spunk in Drew and made the call to put her on the court. Drew would later go on to serve as court monitor.
Drew and Daniel Island native Shelby Rogers were once ball girls at the same time. Now Rogers is No. 48 in the word and a hometown favorite to be in contention for this year’s tournament.
In 2018, after 12 years of service, Drew was presented the Sylvia Huskey Spirit Award on Billie Jean King Court for her leadership, dedication, motivation and positive attitude on and off the court.
One of the most chaotic years in Drew’s memory was in 2007 when the AVP Charleston Open beach volleyball tournament came to Daniel Island right after the tennis tournament. She remembers working double duty and going back and forth between the green clay and the sand.
The 2006 tournament is another one that will live on in infamy for Drew, Rona and many others who were on the grounds that night. It was raining sideways, there were high winds and there was a tornado spiraling about the island.
“That was chaos,” Drew exclaimed. She recalls all the spectators scattering for shelter underneath the bleachers.
Drew and the other members of the court crew were downstairs in one of the tunnels waiting out the storm. One of the players came and got them and brought them to a safer location inside one of the restrooms.
“I remember being kind of scared, but kind of really excited that a player came down and wanted us to come up,” Drew said.
Rona’s recollection of that treacherous night was much of the same. She recalls running toward the Althea Gibson Tennis Complex for safety, but not before backtracking to save the life of an expensive radio that a staff member dropped.
During the calm after the storm, Rona remembers seeing where the tornado tore through a side of the stadium and part of a skybox was lofted into a nearby tree.
Some of Rona’s fond memories while volunteering on Sponsor Row consist of fraternizing with the other volunteers and visiting the players’ doggie daycare. Her and the other workers always used to like to guess who owned each pet.
Rona admits she still has a hard time not calling the tournament the Family Circle Cup because it wasn’t until 2015 that it was changed to the Volvo Car Open. She noted that this year’s ball crew will all be experienced and consist of no first timers due to the strictness of the tournament bubble.
Her favorite part is seeing the little ones run around the court for the first time and answer their questions even though they can’t sit still. Moments like this hold a special place in her heart because it reminds her of Drew and their mother-daughter relationship during the formative years.
Next year, 2022, will mark the 50th anniversary as a professional tennis tournament.