The folks in Whiting had a ball last Saturday, a tennis ball that is, as they celebrated the christening of the new Piatek Tennis Courts. Special guest was world champion Mary Lou Piatek-Daniels. The verse on the beautiful memorial board is "from Whiting to Wimbledon" and this daughter of the community traveled exactly that far in her long career.
This is just the kind of Whiting event that I love. Piatek family friends, neighbors and Mary Lou's high school teachers from years ago were all in attendance.
Prior to the ribbon cutting, the high school girls tennis team was out on the court, playing. What a wonderful inspiration for them to see one of their own who made it to the top through skill and plenty of perseverance.
Mary Lou's dad, Joe Piatek, was the principal for many years at Whiting's McGregor Elementary School. Joe, himself, had been on the varsity tennis team at Indiana University.
The family lived on Oliver Street, right across the street from the school. Although they moved away, whenever I drive by their house, it is always the Piatek home to me.
Joe started Mary Lou playing tennis at an early age. Mary Lou said it all started with table tennis, which gave her hand eye coordination, and by age 8, she spent many an hour bouncing a tennis ball off the brick wall of McGregor.
Her mom, Lillian, said that Joe would stand there as she zapped those balls and say "hit it harder, harder". . .and she did. Naturally, she was Whiting High School's Most Valuable Player and, later, Athlete of the Year at Trinity University.
But after her first year of college, Mary Lou decided to go pro. By 1979, she was the top-ranked female junior player in the world and is in the USTA Midwest Hall of Fame as well as the Indiana High School Tennis Coaches Hall of Fame.
In a neat video running at the event, Billy Jean King talks about the first time she saw this "phenom play at 14 years old" and congratulated both Mary Lou and Whiting on her special day.
One of the touching moments for me was when Sylvia Gotthard came up to Lillian to congratulate her. Lillian said that Sylvia, who knew Mary Lou years ago from the Flossmoor Jr. Tennis program, had given Mary Lou her first "little white tennis dress."
It's the same tennis dress she is wearing on the huge Piatek Tennis Court sign that pictures her and her dad on the courts years ago. In typical devoted mom fashion, Lillian also said she still has that little white dress.
At the beginning of the ceremony, the Whiting High band played "Hail Sturdy Oilers." Mary Lou teared up as she spoke of her gratitude for this honor. Afterwards, she chatted and signed autographs while the crowd munched on sugar cookies in the shape of tennis balls.
"I've been all over the world, but one thing is for sure. There's no place like home, and home will always be Whiting, Indiana," Mary Lou said.
And the people of Whiting are proud to call her their own.