FARMINGTON — In the local tennis scene, it's tough to find someone as well known and revered as Mary Culpepper.
She has been a staple in the Farmington tennis community for close to 50 years. But this week, at the age of 85, Culpepper decided she would hang up her racquet and leave the game she loves behind.
Her retirement from tennis isn't the result of a loss of passion or the enjoyment she receives from the game. She still loves tennis and would like to keep playing, but some of the physical tools she needs to continue competing are starting to fade away.
"I feel like I could still play, but I'm to where I don’t have very good balance, and you need good balance to play," Culpepper said. "I thought with all of these young people playing, they can get someone to replace me and keep filling the slot. It's kind of an obligation to make room for other players."
When Culpepper started playing all those years ago, it was just her and a few other ladies. They picked up the sport largely for its social aspect and as something to keep them active.
They started playing at Brookside Park a few days a week, bouncing around to courts at different parks, adding new members to the group at almost every stop.
During Monday's gathering, a couple of dozen friends and fellow tennis players filtered in and out of the tennis complex to bid Culpepper farewell. And just about every one of the well-wishers expressed to Culpepper how she has been an inspiration to them over the years.
"It's terribly touching," Culpepper said of the farewell she received. "I can't believe it."
In the almost half century that Culpepper has been playing tennis here, she has seen the popularity of the sport increase and produce high-quality players at various levels, saying it's refreshing to see the sport grow.
"I'm glad it's catching on," Culpepper said. "It's never going to match baseball in this town, but there are a lot of good folks who play tennis."
Karl Schneider is the sports editor for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4648.