Chang Match Looks Forward to Fifth Decade
By Jenna Higueras, USTA.com
Indian Wells, Calif. - Sometimes a tennis match can resemble a marriage. Many of the greatest matches of all-time have gone five sets.
Henry and Connie Chang, who captain their respective 2.5 Northern California USTA section teams, have been married for nearly five decades having celebrated 49 years of marriage.
The Changs are at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden this weekend competing with their teams in the 2009 2.5 USTA League National Championships.
Henry, originally from China, and Connie, a California native, met while attending the University of California at Berkeley. Henry has been playing tennis since high school, but Connie had a bit of a later start at the age of 35.
“We have 4 children. I was going nuts, and I needed a break,” Connie said. “So I started with my friends and we began playing on our own on high school tennis courts.”
His wife's new hobby reignited Henry's love of the game. Never one to be left out, he said, “I better go back to play tennis, too. She is having so much fun with her girlfriends that I wanted to be a part of it.”
Connie transitioned her game from an escape to a career as she went on to become the tennis coach at Skyline High School in Oakland, Calif. Henry also promoted tennis through his position on Oakland's city council, which he was a member of for 14 years. He helped fund the construction of tennis courts at Oakland's Laney Community College.
The separate paths of their tennis journey finally came together as Connie and Henry joined forces to make tennis accessible to the Oakland community.
They recognized the lack of affordable playing opportunities in the area and decided it was up to them to create a friendly and open environment for people to learn the game they loved.
Henry recommended they use the courts he had helped build at Laney College and Connie offered up her skills as coach. Together they created a free community tennis program. What started off as venue to teach a small group of friends how to play tennis, has now grown to more than 130 members.
“We just take in anyone who wants to learn how to play tennis and work with them,” Henry said. After their group had learned the basics, the coaching duo decided it was time to create teams and introduce the players to USTA Leagues. Henry and Connie each created and captained their own men's and women's team and after years of hard work, have reached the 2.5 USTA League National Championships. They credit their success to the family-friendly environment they have created with their community tennis group.
“We call it the Laney Tennis Family. All our players are really close to each other, because every weekend, they all play together. Everyone has a lot of fun,” said Connie.
The Northern California women's team prevailed in their first match on Friday morning, sweeping Florida 3-0.
The men's Northern California team dropped their first round to a tough team from Puerto Rico, 3-0.
Henry hopes Connie's team can share a little knowledge with his team. “I want to send my guys to talk to the girls' team. Maybe they can teach us how to win,” he quipped.
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Connie and Henry Chang are a unique husband and wife team. They have been married for 50 years, and they each have a team in the Northern California Section competing in the 2.5 USTA National Championships this year in Rancho Mirage, CA.
This long partnership got started at UC Berkeley. Henry was looking out the window and saw Connie in one of the dorms. He walked over to talk to her, and one year later they were married, in 1960.
Henry got into politics and was on the Oakland City Council and went on to become Vice Mayor of Oakland. Connie stayed at home to take care of their four children. She says she was "climbing the walls and getting flabby." So at age 35, she started playing tennis for the first time with some girlfriends. When Henry saw how much fun she was having, he decided to play too.
Several years ago, they started a league out of Laney College in Oakland. Now they have about 200 members, men and women at every level of play, from teenagers to people in their 80's. Every weekend they have 8 courts filled at the college starting at 8:30. The teams even chipped in to buy a ball machine.
The Changs say the key is to recruit beginners with good basics. Connie Chang explains, "other places don't pay much attention to the 2.5 players. We really work with them." They match them up against more experienced players, and with that type of competition, by the end of the season they have some really good players.
The strategy paid off. This isn't the first time the Changs have had a mens' team and a womens' 2.5 team in the USTA National Championships. In fact, it's the second year in a row this husband and wife team has done it. Henry Chang doesn't think any husband and wife have ever done that before.
Connie Chang is 72, and she works on Child Care at UC Berkeley and the State Commission Aging, Henry Chang is 76 and claims he is retired, but he's still working for his players. In less than 3 weeks, he arranged for about 30 of them to head to a tournament in Shanghai, when the Shanghai ATP Masters 1000 wraps up. They will play at the same stadium, with the same staff, used by some of the top players in the world just days before.
The Changs say their partnership on the court has helped their partnership off the court. Henry Chang thinks the key is that "it keeps you healthy, and you're doing something you both like to do."
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