Minus twins, Rice Classic will carry on
Tennis tournaments are part of the Willmar summer. It wasn't always this way.
The Rice brothers, twins Brad and Bryan, while still in high school, decided something was missing during school vacation.
In 1975, they called some friends and adults, bought some pop and called it a tournament. The twins graduated a year later but carried on the event through their college years. When they moved to the metro area to establish careers and families, the Rice Classic was discontinued in the 1980s.
Others picked up the slack. The Myhre Open, run by Cardinal alumni Steve Myhre and his family with the help of tennis coach Hal Miller, provided a popular June tournament in the eighties and nineties. When there was a lapse in the mid '90s of the traditional early August event, Brad and Bryan stepped back into the picture.
The Rice Classic has been going strong ever since -- a three-day event on the first weekend of August.
Numbers wise, it is one of the most popular open tournaments in the state. It's not USTA certified which saves entrants a $30 fee and makes it attractive to those of modest ability.
This year Brad and Bryan felt it was no longer practical for them and their families to front the event. After discussions with the Willmar Community Education and Recreation office, the event will now be under the direction of the city.
"We thought it was too important to the community to let it drop," said rec supervisor Brad Bonk. "We were eager to see it continue. We'll maintain the same name."
Players may register on-line through the WCER website or www.RicetennisClassic.com, which is in the process of being updated this week.
On-line registration, coupled with Paypal, generates 90 percent of the entries, Brad said this week. The draw is posted on Thursday, the week of the tournament, allowing players to know early when they are scheduled to play throughout the three days.
The Rices' goal was always to build a "participant friendly" event. In a way, it was easy to know what worked. Brad and Bryan both played at a high level and so did their children. Bryan and Becky have three boys, Tony, Kyle and Adam, who all went on to play at the Division III level in college; Brad and Deb also had three kids, Amy, Andrew and Kyle, who also played for Willmar before going on to Minnesota, where they understandably did not play varsity tennis. Bryan's family moved to Winona but came home each summer to help run the tournament. A year ago Bryan took a position in Rapid City, S.D., where he will be a regional manager for a dozen building-supply outlets.
It made it impractical for Bryan and his family to commit to helping stage the event from eight hours away, said Brad.
Brad handled the paper work for each tournament at Rice & Associaties, a business consulting firm. Entry fees offset the cost of t-shirts and trophies (to about 30 percent of participants) and overhead. Money left over have helped pay for the new benches at the high school courts and for a much-needed tennis shelter.
The city and college gave the tournament access to every court in town, all needed when the individual entries exceeded 100 and reached as high as 140.
Summer tennis tournaments remain popular in the area. When the Myhres stepped down after many successful years, Chad Schmiesing, a New London-Spicer coach, saw the need for a June event and has established Cardinal Classic.
The Litchfield Watercade Tournament celebrated its 32nd year, all directed by Mike Miller, with 91 individual entries last weekend. Benson and New London also host long-time popular tournaments.
Former New London-Spicer tennis coach David Peterman started a tournament in Willmar the same year as the Rice brothers.
He and John Egge had a June tournament in Willmar starting in 1975 using courts at Miller and Rice parks. That continued through 1979 when two courts were built east of the high school in New London and a pair in Spicer. That summer event continues today as the Waterdays Tournament in late July.
"Bryan and I have had a lot of fun over the years," commented Brad. "We've certainly received more out of it than we've put in it. We remain passionate about the tournament and are excited for its future."