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Remembering Mom by Playing Tennis

May 28, 2015 09:14 AM

Jonathon Braden
USTA South Carolina

COLUMBIA, S.C. – Becky Fields never played tennis with her mother, Mary Elizabeth DeLong. But every time Fields plays a match these days, she thinks about her late mom.

When she’s winning, she remembers how much her mother loved tennis. When she’s losing, she talks to her mom about the match. “Oh my goodness, Mom, I gotta get my crap together,” Fields remembers saying to herself.

On Saturday, Fields will play with her Columbia team in the USTA South Carolina 18 & Over 2.5-3.5 League State Championships in Greenville. She’ll also be thinking about her mother even more than usual. May 30, 2015 will mark 21 years since Fields’ mother died of sarcoma, cancer in her connective tissue.

“I love that I love tennis because she loved it,” Fields said. “I feel so connected to her when I’m playing.”

Fields' team is eager to play in a league state championship this weekend. From left to right: Katie Clampitt, Missy Dissinger, Erika Fallaw, Lisa Peck, Becky Fields, Deborah Conroy and Helen Conroy.

Both Fields and her mother came to love tennis despite starting later in life.

DeLong started playing only after three of her four kids, including Fields, were away at college.

At around 41 years old, she joined daytime league teams at the Spring Valley Country Club in northeast Columbia. Soon she was playing three times a week and traveling to tennis tournaments with her friends, Fields said as she pointed out her mother in photos from a former teammate’s scrapbook.

There’s DeLong, trim and tall, playing with her teammates at the Spring Valley clay courts. There she is posing for a photo, standing at least a few inches taller than her teammates. Another photo shows Fields’ mother enjoying the Family Circle Cup when it was still held on Hilton Head Island.

Despite growing up around the sport – all three of her brothers played tennis in high school – Fields showed no interest in the sport until last year, when her children were older, 10 and 8. In February 2014, when Fields was 42, she and some friends decided to take lessons from Lauren Stewart at The Woodlands Golf and Country Club and play on a USTA league team.

Fields knew little about tennis. “I had to learn how to hold a racket. I didn’t know deuce, ad. I didn’t even know how to keep score the first season we played,” she said. “I mean beginner, beginner, beginner.”

During her first season, Fields lost all of her doubles matches. Last fall, she won about half of them. But this spring, she and her teammate have lost only two matches. Her team also improved quickly enough to qualify for this weekend’s league state championships.

“We couldn’t believe it,” Fields said. “We owe it all to (Stewart).”

Fields plays at least two times a week through clinics and league matches. Lately, she’s even taken the court for 30-minute private lessons from Stewart. The lessons were a Mother’s Day gift from Fields’ husband, Andy.

“He’s real supportive,” Fields said. “He doesn’t have a choice; I love it.”
Playing the sport her mother loved makes Fields feel closer to her mom, she said. She also knows her mother would be pleased to see her enjoying the sport that has given their family joy for decades.

“I want to be as good as she was,” Fields said. “She’d be so proud. She’d be so proud.”