A tradition like no other.
No, I am not referring to the Masters and its exalted spot in the hierarchy of sports events.
I am instead referencing our town's Rotary Tennis Tournament, which wrapped up its 62nd edition Saturday, despite the complete absence of cooperating weather.
"Just the fact that you have all these indoor facilities here," said Steve Krulevitz, who brought his Gilman School Greyhounds all the way from Baltimore. They finished third to Nashville's Montgomery Bell Academy and Saint Xavier of Louisville, Ky., in the Boys' A Division.
"No matter what the weather was — and you can always expect rain in April — we knew we'd get some tennis in."
Indoor courts at Baylor, Girls Preparatory School and McCallie guaranteed the tournament would wrap up by mid-Saturday afternoon, not much differently than it would have under sunny skies.
But that's not the biggest reason Krulevitz — who was ranked 42nd in the world at the height of his playing career in the early 1970s — chose to make his Greyhounds the team that has traveled the farthest to become a part of the Rotary's rich history.
"Sportsmanship," he said. "The last few years we've flown to California to compete in a tournament out there. But the sportsmanship was a little disappointing. Tennis is a game of sportsmanship. Play hard. Play fair. Shake hands, look the other guy in the eye. That's what it's all about for me with my players, and I felt like we'd see a lot of that here in the South, because I'd always seen that when I played here before."
Knoxville Webb coach Jimmy Pitkanen has been bringing his team here for 21 years. His girls won the A Division title, nipping Baylor's two-time defending champs, 22-20, with GPS finishing third.
"The Rotary (tourney) goes out of its way to make sure the participants enjoy themselves," Pitkanen said. "One big reason this tournament is so attractive is that it's all about the kids."
If that's the case, unofficial tournament director Mary Cook and behind-the-scenes organizer Beth Johns may be the two biggest reasons why.
"When we got here this year, my players were asking, 'Who's the lady who always greets us so nicely?'" Pitkanen recalled. "I said, 'That's Mary Cook. She's the best.'"
Or at least the co-best with Johns, according to official tourney co-chairs Jack Webb and Ward Nelson, whom Johns has worked for as an administrative assistant for the past 30 years at the Miller & Martin law firm.
"Beth is a saint," Nelson said. "We couldn't do this without her. She's the only one who knows how to do the brackets."
Added Webb concerning Cook: "Mary's one of the best people you could ever have running the tournament. She and Beth are the ones who really make this thing go."
It's been going strong since 1957, when McCallie's Hugh O. Maclellan won the first singles title. GPS's Laura Duffy won the first two girls' titles in 1968 and 1969.
GPS's Maddox Bandy won the girls' No. 1 title this year, and Baylor's Lauren Carelli earned her fourth Rotary singles medal in four years, winning the No. 2 singles this time around. Gilman's Derrick Thompson won the No. 1 singles for Boys' A.
"Closest finish ever," Webb said of the boys' team standings.
But whether it's girls or boys, "the tennis is always spectacular," said Mountain Brook (Ala.) coach Susan Farlow, who's brought the Spartans here 11 straight years.
"The whole event is great, though," she added. "They give you T-shirts. Everything's well organized. I think our players always have a lot of fun here."
St. X coach Gil Downs has brought the Tigers down from the Derby City for the past decade. Of the tennis he said, "The competition is always super competitive. And having Gilman has made it even better this year."
As for spending a weekend in the Scenic City, he smiled and added, "Chattanooga's such a fun place to bring a group of kids."
Yet no event that brings 32 different high schools to one town on one weekend can be expected to go perfectly, which is where the University School of Jackson comes in. Yearly participants here, the Bruins had to withdraw from Saturday's final round because, as coach Ted Measley explained, USJ's prom was Saturday evening and his kids told him, "Coach, we only have this one time in our life."
Fortunately, most kids who play in the Rotary tournament once get to play in it three or four times, and McCallie coach Jeff Clark expects that to continue for years, if not decades, to come.
"I'd venture to say that there aren't a lot of (in-season) high school tennis tournaments that have been going on for over 60 years," he said. "It's just a neat event to be a part of, and there aren't a lot of flighted formats out there anymore (A and B divisions). No matter how good your team is, every kid has a chance to win a match."
And if that's a tradition like no other, then let us hope it sticks around for at least 62 more years.
Contact Mark Wiedmer at firstname.lastname@example.org