At Ashland Tennis and Fitness Club, it's hard to miss the volley of stories bandied about by members eager to talk about the sport's prominence in their families.
David and Jody Hodges both played tennis as children but were married 20 years before uncovering an unlikely connection. Almost 40 years before either of the Hodgeses was born, Jody's grandmother played in a 1908 Nantucket, Mass., tournament as a partner to David's grandfather.
"Family tennis goes way back," says David Hodges, 63, of Ashland.
Tennis also runs deep in Gene Morris' family, one of the original founders of Ashland. Descended from Eber Emery, 82-year-old Morris grew up playing tennis in Lithia Park with his father and sister. He's since moved his game to the club's indoor courts, but Morris still plays doubles matches twice a week with a group of men who call themselves "the roosters," on account of their 7:30 a.m. court time.
"We don't play singles anymore," Morris says.
"My dad plays with men that are in their 90s, and sometimes you wonder how they can stand up and hit the ball," says Morris' daughter, 57-year-old Sharon Laskos.
Carrying on a family tradition, Laskos met her husband, Ed, playing tennis. When they married in 1983 at Ashland Hills Inn, the Laskoses — still in bridal garb — cemented their vows with a game of tennis at the hotel's courts.
"Had our champagne and our tennis rackets," Sharon Laskos laughs. "Most of our wedding party, we still play tennis with."
Now tennis-club members, most in their 40s, 50s and 60s, are trying to ensure the next generation makes more tennis memories. When the club was in danger of closing in 2007, about 300 members amassed enough funds to purchase the club — founded in 1988 — from owner-developer Doug Neuman. Original member David Jones, of Ashland, pleaded with others to save the club for their children and grandchildren.
"It takes a village to raise children," says Jones, 65. "And kids who are serious about tennis have a whole community to help them.
"There's kids who go down there in the summer and hang out all day."
With four indoor courts, a fitness center, lap pool, contingent of classes and even tennis instructors, the club charges $155 for a family of four's monthly dues to use all the facilities. A 30-percent discount is available to junior tennis members, a maneuver to attract younger players, admittedly one of the club's biggest challenges.
"I'm hoping we play with our kids' kids," Laskos says. "This is something they can do through their whole life."
The Hodges' 25-year-old son, Jesse, started playing tennis only within the past couple of years, David Hodges says, but he approaches it with almost as much passion as when he competed in soccer throughout his childhood and young-adult years.
"As you get older, soccer's not quite so easy to play," Hodges says. "Even during soccer season, he's playing tennis.
"Tennis can be as physically demanding as you want it to be."
But in order to remain competitive, tennis enthusiasts must maintain a certain level of physical fitness, says Jones, a family-practice physician. The sport provides an incentive for staying active as one ages, he adds.
"Tennis has a unique physical component," he says. "I intend to play tennis if I live to 100."
Also appealing is tennis' mental aspect, Jones says.
" ... There's the chess game of tennis," Jones says. "It is such a 'head-y' game."
"I'm always learning new stuff," says Hodges.
Learning much of the game from club instructors, the Laskos' son, 17-year-old Jeff, strived to be as good as his parents. In July's Big Al's tournament — the largest regional tennis event and fundraiser for Support Tennis for Ashland Youth — Jeff played side by side with both mother and father for the first time in competition. This time, he was the one giving pointers.
"She was missing overheads," Jeff says of playing mixed doubles with his mom. "We had a little issue with strategy."
Sharon Laskos says she and Ed sometimes worry that if Jeff's abilities much further surpass their own, he won't want to play with his parents. But if history is any indicator, tennis is a sport that ultimately brings generations together.
"Every generation has gotten better," Sharon Laskos says. "It's really thrilling when your kids get better than you are."