Audie Furgal Tennis Classic draws friends, competitors to courts of Berkshires
LENOX -- Marjorie Bannish holds herself to a pretty high standard on the tennis courts. Her doubles team may have won the most games in its group Saturday morning at Berkshire West Athletic Club, but she still saw room for improvement.
"I'd give myself maybe a B or B+," Bannish said. "The ball was bouncing in such weird manners. Everybody was challenged to figure out what the ball was going to do."
Perhaps that high standard comes from years of playing alongside her friend Audie Furgal.
Many in the Berkshire County tennis community took to the courts Saturday for the third annual Audie Furgal Tennis Classic, named in honor of the late Lee resident and Community Tennis Association member. More than 90 players competed at seven different sites around the central and southern Berkshires to raise money for both Porchlight VNA/Home Care and the Lee CTA.
The players -- all doubles this year -- were divided among 11 divisions, ranging from teen and United States Tennis Association 3.0-rated levels to 4.0 and 4.5 levels in both men's, women's and mixed round-robin competition. They played on both Har-Tru and red clay surfaces, with a pair of private Lenox residences offering their red clay courts for matches.
The players included Furgal's daughter, Tobey Furgal Simone, Tobey's husband Mike and two of her daughters. Tobey and daughter Lena, 11, were defeated by Mike and Lena's twin sister Lydia at Lee High School.
For Tobey, who didn't pick up tennis until after high school, the tournament is an important way for her family to allow Audie's legacy to live on following her 2012 death from lung cancer.
"Tennis was her love, as well as my four girls," Simone said. "Three of the four are old enough to play in [the tournament], and I know she's looking down and smiling at us."
Many of the tournament organizers knew Audie well, both on and off the court. Their attendance at and participation in the tournament every year is, of course, a testament to how well she was liked off the court.
On the court, her friends say, Audie was a fierce competitor. Perhaps her husband Joe, who preferred to play doubles with her than singles against her, put it best.
"She was a demon at the net," he said. "People were afraid because she hit the ball so hard. I played for fun, but Audie was a little more competitive than I."
Tournament director and Lee CTA CEO Clare ‘Bunnie' Lahey said Furgal was a 3.5-rated player, who could have likely reached 4.0. She played in USTA recreational leagues and tournaments after joining the CTA, and also served as an assistant coach for the Lee High School girls tennis team at one point.
"Audie would have been a champion," Lahey said. "She was one of the top players in the women's [scene]. She was a real winner, and very strong."
Bannish -- who, as the owner of Awfully Good Signs, donated many of the signs seen Saturday at Berkshire West -- saw that strength when she played doubles alongside Furgal.
"Oh, we were good," she said. "She [did] great at the net. She was fearless. She was a good mover and easy to work with."
During Furgal's battle with cancer, she relied on VNA services. Joe said his wife would be pleased to know that three-quarters of the money raised Saturday is going to Porchlight for telehealth monitors, which track patients' vital signs and send the information from their homes to visiting nurses.
Porchlight CEO Holly Chaffee, on hand Saturday at Berkshire West, knew Furgal for five years. She said the donations for the silent auction have tripled since the start of the tournament three years ago, and that the players who return yearly always seem to bring friends with them the next year.
"I really feel that her presence is here," Chaffee said. "She's looking down saying, ‘Go for it. Thank you.' "
Audie's love of tennis, of course, lives on through Joe, Tobey, Lena, Lydia and the third grandchild playing Saturday, 6-year-old Jenna.
"Whenever they think of their Mimi, which is what they called my mom, they think of tennis," Simone said. "It's a great way to [carry] on her spirit."
To reach Matthew Sprague:
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