By Billy Diep
There you are, standing on Centre Court in a packed stadium during primetime. Your racquet is in your hand as you prepare to serve against one of the greats of the game, Jim Courier. For many tennis players and fans, this is the dream. For Priscilla Bulandres, it was reality.
Rogers Legends Cup came to Toronto in 2011 as part of the Rogers Cup presented by National Bank festivities. Priscilla was on court as a ball kid for the Andre Agassi and Jim Courier match.
“Agassi was toying with the ball kids, but it was fun. He actually let me play for him and I went and was shaking on court, because it’s primetime and the stadium’s packed,” says Priscilla.
Priscilla is a ball crew captain at Rogers Cup and has been volunteering on ball crew for seven years. Her interest in tennis started when she was 12 and her father brought her to the tournament.
Her dad had joked, “Maybe next year you can be on court with them.”
Seven years later, this is Priscilla’s fourth and last year as ball crew captain, because the age cut-off is 19 years old. Priscilla coaches tennis when she’s not volunteering and says being captain is very similar to being a coach. The part she loves most about coaching and working as a ball crew captain is watching the kids improve throughout the week.
However, not all 80 ball kids can make the final weekend, because there aren’t enough matches being played. Captains evaluate their own team and the committee heads for ball crew evaluate everyone as a whole. Only the best of the ball kids get to be on court for the final weekend because “ball kids run the show without being noticed. The players are happy when the ball kids are doing their job,” says Priscilla.
“The most rewarding part is when you have a rookie who makes final weekend and you’re like, that’s my pick. That’s my rookie.”
Cuts are always the worst part for Priscilla. A list goes up that names the ball kids who get to stay, but she makes sure to go out and talk to the ones who didn’t make the cut.
“I say things like, you did a good job this week, but here are a few things you need to work on. We would’ve loved to keep you but obviously we can’t keep everyone. Come back just to hang out in the ball crew room with everyone else.”
When the ball kids are not on duty, there are teambuilding exercises and fun activities for them. Games like handball, jugball, where the kids take a used water jug and play tennis against the wall, as well as Ball Crew Olympics, which tests the skills and speeds of each team. Each team must come up with a team name and cheer.
Points are awarded for the winner of the Olympics and for best cheer. At the end of the week, the team with the most points gets crowned “Team of the Year.”
“Ball crew is a family to us. This is your family for a week. You spend more time here than you do at home during Rogers Cup,” says Priscilla.
For new volunteers, Priscilla’s advice is, “Don’t be scared of each other. This is your family. Go out and make friends, have fun. Be inclusive of not just people in your committee. You want to be nice to all the other committees, because we’re all working together to make this tournament happen.”