Set your Tivos and DVRs for 11 p.m. EDT Sunday night, when ESPN Classic will broadcast the junior tennis documentary 50,000 Balls.
I've seen the film many times in several versions, but I'll be recording it to see the one hour television edition, the airing of which represents the diligence and determination of TJ Pura's mother and Tom Pura's widow, Sara Weinheimer.
Tom's untimely death, just under a year ago, left Sara with the task of seeing the film get wider distribution, as Tom had just begun to shepherd it through the film festival circuit. That she was able to accomplish this while dealing with her own and her family's grief is a testament to her inspirational strength and her commitment to the project.
Centered around four boys--Joe DiGiulio, Mitchell Krueger, Mitchell Polnet and TJ Pura-- who are preparing for the 12s National Hard Courts in Arkansas in 2006, the film is a very authentic look at the subculture of junior tennis in its earliest stages. I spoke with Tom a couple of months before his death for this Tennis Recruiting Network interview, and as I reread it, the question about a sequel made me very sad, coming as it did with the realization that is unlikely to happen now.
The film he did make is an important and substantial legacy, however, and it is both entertaining and instructive. I truly enjoyed the extended interviews with Tom Gullikson, Jay Berger, Gilad Bloom, Billy McQuaid, Dave Licker, Chris Lewis and Al Parker that most certainly will not be in the version shown Sunday, Father's Day, but they are available on the DVD, which can be purchased on the website. The film will also air on ESPNU on July 3 at 10 p.m. EDT, but those are the only two air times scheduled.
The press release I received this afternoon had this quote from Mary Carillo, the respected longtime tennis commentator.
"This film takes a good, hard look at the rigors and sacrifices that are made in the name of junior tennis, not only by its young players but by their entire families. I'm the mother of two strong, athletic kids who both chose team sports over tennis. They quickly came to understand what it would take to be among the elite, and gravitated to other sports. I never tried to stop them, either--it takes a special kid to go towards such a lofty standard and goal. '50,000 Balls' gives good insights into both the joys and tribulations of junior tennis."
Friday, June 19, 2009