A USTA League Captain, Marion Colbert knows how to run a tight, fun ship
Marion Colbert loves Holbrook, Arizona.
Absolutely adores a town that most I-40 travelers shoot past without a look-see. What could be in Holbrook, anyway? It’s all freeway curio shops, isn’t it? An off-ramp to Nowheresville, right?
Wrong! Marion howls.
Two years ago, on her way from Albuquerque to Surprise, Arizona, for the USTA Nationals, Marion stopped in Holbrook. With her were some of the players on her Super Senior Women’s combined 6.0 team.
Not stopped as in spent 12 minutes filling up at the big Shell station. No, no. Marion, bless her, took a couple of hours filling up on the sights of Holbrook. Don’t believe that? She has the photographs to prove it.
There are photos of the exterior of the Navajo County Court House—from four different angles.
There are photos of the interior of the Navajo County Museum.
There are photos inside the museum of an old sewing machine inside a locked-up glass case.
There is a photo of a really old sign that hangs on the wall of the museum. The sign snows the mileage from Holbrook to several different places. Albuquerque is 230 miles away. Tallahassee is 2,009 miles, in case you’re wondering.
There are photos of the outside wall of Joe & Aggie’s Café. Five stars, says Marion.
Many of Marion’s photos are of road signs. Marion just had to have images of Route 66 markers. Same goes for the many landscapes she took of saguaro cacti as her car sailed down I-17 toward Surprise. Marion Colbert apparently has never met a saguaro cactus that didn’t make her happy.
Well, you’re probably thinking, this woman was going to Nationals, so she should have been happy.
She was and she is.
You see, Marion is going back to Surprise this month, back to Nationals for a second time. OK, you’re probably saying, lots of people go to Nationals. Listen, lots of people don’t. Sometimes you have to play a lot to get there. Marion plays a lot. Since 2002, she has played on 61 league teams. She’s captained a bunch, including a men’s 3.0 group.
All of this and Marion had never been to Nationals—until 2010. Marion has been to Sectionals eight times with her current team. But that first trip to Nationals, that was like reaching the Super Bowl.
The layover in Holbrook was intentional, just one more item to emerge from Captain Marion’s overactive brain. What better way to loosen up the team and get members to laugh and relax before going on the big stage.
The energy of a teenager
Marion’s photo album does not end in Holbrook. There is a picture (right) of Eliza Maestas on a tennis court at Surprise. There are three, no four photos of Eliza standing alongside the team’s banner at Surprise. Eliza has known Marion for 20 years. They first met when they were on a team called the Lobbing Ladies. The truth: Eliza hates to lob. But don’t tell that to Marion.
There’s a photograph by Marion of Anita Solberg hitting a backhand at Nationals. And another one of Anita hitting another backhand.
Anita is close to Eliza. They vacation together. When she isn’t playing tennis, Anita dresses up as Mother Goose and reads to school kids in Albuquerque. Eliza goes along as the Old Woman in the Shoe.
Alas, Marion does none of this. She’s too busy micro-managing two or three other teams, master gardening, doing pet therapy and feeding two horses and two Great Danes every single day.
Presumably this tiny Superwoman sleeps at some point. Maybe.
There is a photograph or three by Marion of Mary Tabor at Nationals. Mary must have won her match. She is smiling and her face is red. Tennis helps Mary move ahead and stay positive. Mary loves the potlucks Marion has the team do. The birthday parties, the luncheons, the little gifts all spill from Marion’s heart. Let me tell you, says Mary, we really appreciate Marion. She’s a tireless, selfless worker. She doesn’t stop.
No, she doesn’t. At 5-foot-1 on her tippy-toes, peppy as all get out, Marion could easily be the president of your high school Calisthenics Club.
Marion makes up for being challenged vertically by moving flat-out faster than anyone—on the court and off. Marion doesn’t run; she scurries.
Marion grew up in South Florida. Her father is clearly the source of her captaining genes. Thomas Murphy served in the merchant marine and then steered big yachts up and down the East Coast for a living.
She came to tennis in 1973 not long after she came to Albuquerque. Took lessons from D’Wayne Begay at the old Beverly Park and put herself on a singles ladder at the Complex.
She then stepped away from the game—to raise seven children at home. Two were hers and the other five were special needs kids that she and her husband John adopted.
She came back to the game, in 1995. Why? I had to get out of the house, Marion says.
To catch up, she joined teams and leagues all over town, and early on became a captain. The title suited her; she liked to lead. Sure, she can sometimes drive you crazy fussing over details. But she means well. Hey, someone’s got to arrange those potlucks.
For the last six years Marion’s Super Senior women’s team has played out of the Lobo Tennis Club. The team is named the OPALS. This has nothing do with precious stones. OPALS are an acronym for Optimistic People with Active Life Styles. Marion clearly is the most active.
Team member Ann Parks was almost 60 when she started playing. She went to four surgeons before she could find one who would help her.
She felt like an old lady but she refused to serve underhand. She loves tennis and says that when she plays, the ball is her world.
As wide as Marion’s tennis world is, she never stops expanding it. She constantly scouts players in an effort to recruit new ones. That’s what I do, she says. She does a lot more.
For this next trip to Nationals she emailed new team members what clothes to bring. She sends out lists, lots of lists. Lists showing who is taking care of what snacks on which days. Who is rooming with whom. Who is in charge of rental cars. Marion likes to hold team meetings. Don’t forget the sunscreen, she reminds. And be sure to check the SPF.
The OPALS nod, not quite nodding off.
Marion looks for people who fit in with the OPALS. Not superstar Super Seniors. Simply women who will get along and who want to improve. Most of them are 3.0. A few 3.5, a few 2.5. Marion matches partners but she believes people should be able to play with anyone. She is the mother hen to the OPALS, though at 72 she is not the oldest.
There is a photograph of Kathy Aragon sitting on the patio après match at the Nationals. Kathy’s been with the team three years. She loves the camaraderie. Her game? When we play doubles, she says, we laugh and say yours a lot.
Kathy lives next door to Eliza. In fact, Kathy, Eliza and Anita went to Italy together.
Marion didn’t go along? Nope. Marion stayed home. She had to a team lineup to work on.
Scurrying, always scurrying
Bobbie Mason came to the OPALS via Silver Racquets. That’s for folks who have been away from tennis for a while. Bobbie had been away for 20 years or so, raising kids. Most of the OPALS are married and most of their spouses don’t play. Kathy Aragon says that only makes the team work harder. That and Marion.
In all her years as a captain, Marion has had to ask only one player to leave. The player had a habit of calling lines unfairly. Marion fretted. She polled team members. She fretted some more. The player, to Marion’s deep regret, had to go.
Anna Kratochvil came to the U.S. from what is now the Czech Republic, in 1984. She came for a better life. Anna isn’t in love with tournaments. I get too nervous, she says. She loves Marion, though.
People love Marion—even if they don’t quite understand her. Team member Bonnie Cundiff has a doctorate in psychology but has no interest in trying to figure out Marion. What you see of Marion is what you get. She’s in charge, like it or not. Try to imagine a schoolmarm with one gear.
Marion won’t take sides when one player is having a problem with another. Leave it on the court, Marion says. She leaves little on the court. She’s the small woman scurrying along the baseline and waving a Weed racket, one of those 135-square-inch screen doors.
Marion doesn’t put herself over other team members—and not because she’s diminutive. She puts her players first because that’s who she is. She is fair with everybody, says Sherry Pabich. Marion doesn’t carry a big stick, Sherry says. She has a soft touch.
And a touch for souvenirs. On that trip home from Nationals two years ago, she hung out a car window and captured at least 20 photographs of red mesas. Do not ever tell Marion Colbert that if you’ve seen one red mesa you’ve seen them all.
Incidentally, Marion is flying to Nationals this year. Almost all the OPALS are flying rather than driving. Marion agrees that going by airplane is faster, but you don’t see as much flying.
And you can’t hang out of the window to take photographs.
COUNTERPUNCHER is an online exclusive series written by former Albuquerque Journal reporter, three-time USTA Southwest Media Excellence winner and past Section Marketing Committee member Toby Smith. Smith has been writing on tennis for more than 40 years.
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