SOUTHINGTON — Throughout his life, Matt Wayton has felt comfortable running around on a tennis court. He competed at Southington High School and kept playing on the club level at the University of North Carolina Charlotte.
“I like the competition and camaraderie of it,” explained Wayton. “Every tennis match is like chess. You can always do something different and better. I like the exercise component, too, and how it (tennis) keeps you in shape.”
While he graduated from high school back in 2005, Wayton has found a way to stay connected with his alma mater and give back to the sport he loves. For the last 13 years, he has brought people together to play in the Wayton Open, a co-ed tennis tournament in town.
“I get to see a lot of alums and community members come out,” Wayton said. “There are lot of people from around the state and some come from out of Connecticut, so it is a good mix. I like meeting new people.”
This year’s tournament starts Saturday and runs through Tuesday, with championship matches in 12 divisions. Wayton typically holds the event in the second week of July, but due to the coronavirus pandemic, he pushed it back a month.
“Back in April, I wasn’t sure if it was going to happen this year,” recalled Wayton. “I’m really happy that we didn’t need to skip a year like other tournaments have had to do. I think it brings a sense of normalcy for people to continue with the event.”
Wayton feels that tennis is safe sport to play during the pandemic.
“You don’t have to touch anyone. You are only touching the ball and you have distance between you and the other players,” explained Wayton. “It is one of the few sports that doesn’t have issues with COVID right now.”
The tournament is open to players of all ages and has divisions set up for people aged 45 and up. While high school is the youngest level, Wayton adds that some middle school students have competed before.
People can play singles, as well as male, female, and mixed doubles. The A division is set up for higher skilled players, while less experienced participants can play in the B group.
“Even if you lose in the first round, the tournament has a recreational and competitive feel,” said Wayton. “We get some people who play once a year and others who played in college.”
All of the divisions are played in single-elimination format. The champion and runner-up player both receive trophies.
Wayton estimates that 90 percent of matches will be played at Southington High School.
“We have the courts all week,” stated Wayton. “There are 17 public courts in Southington, so it is good to have more room for matches.”
As of press time, just over 100 players have signed up for this year's tournament.
“We usually get 200 to 300, but numbers are down because of COVID,” said Wayton. “I’m always trying to get a lot of people every year, but this time, I don’t want too many because I want to be able to have (social) distancing.”
Wayton enjoys seeing a lot of people return to compete every year.
“Hopefully, this tournament keeps them playing the sport throughout their life,” said Wayton.
The event typically raises $2,000 to $3,000 a year, with all proceeds going to Thank Dog Rescue, a 501(c)(3) charitable group that finds home for canines of all breeds.
“My family and I have always liked dogs. After we got a dog, we learned about the rescue operation,” stated Wayton. “Dogs can’t speak or advocate for themselves. The more money we give, the more dogs we can save from the streets and give them a better life.”
Running the tournament since 2007, Wayton has enjoyed seeing it grow in his hometown. The inaugural event had just one division with 20 players.
“It began as a grass-roots one-day tournament spread by word of mouth. My friends and I played tennis in high school and I thought this was a good way to reconnect with them,” reflected Wayton. “I never thought that it (the event) would get this big.”
To register for this year’s tournament, people can sign up at www.waytonopen.com by the end of today. The brackets will be posted online on Thursday.
“I usually put up a google doc with scheduling, so people can look at it and see if they need to reschedule,” Wayton explained.