Tony Webb made his name as a tennis player while growing up in North East. A 1960 North East High School graduate, he was a member of the Grapepickers’ first tennis team.
After that, Webb played collegiately for Division II program Harding (Arkansas) and eventually was enshrined as a member of the North East Athletic Hall of Fame. Webb was even a US military table tennis champ in 1967 while serving with the US Army in Vietnam.
It was not until he was in his 70s when he got to witness the sport of pickleball firsthand. He did not think much of it initially.
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“That looks like a stupid game, but I’ve got to try it,” he said. “I soon found out, it’s all in touch and footspeed that I was gifted with. I started trying it and could do it really well, so that’s how I took a liking to it.”
Not only did he take a liking to it, Webb has excelled at it.
In his eighth year playing the sport, Webb participated in the world’s largest pickleball tournament and, with four straight wins, won the championship in his skill/80-and-over age group at the Minto US Open Pickleball Championships in Naples, Florida.
Competing in the 2.5/3.0/3.5 skill-level bracket, Webb had defeated a former US Open champ, Bob Bird, in the quarterfinals, before he outlasted Jimbo Cohen, the Minnesota state winner, in the championship match 11-1, 10- 12, 11-9. The finals were part of a pickleball broadcast package televised on CBS Sports Network.
“I was on fire and I’m so proud of it,” he said. “It’s probably bigger than all of my tennis titles.”
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Webb, 80, continues to excel in sport as an octogenarian and not only in racket sports. He is currently the five-time Super Senior golf club champion at North Hills in Corry and is a former two-time EDGA Super Senior champ.
Webb was an Army veteran when he met his wife, a native of Anchorage, Alaska. He relocated to The Last Frontier for 30 years where he was a 10-time Alaska state tennis champion between 1977 and 1992 and claimed the Anchorage Racquet Club “Four-Racquet Tournament” in 1992, featuring tennis, table tennis, badminton and racquetball.
Despite his diverse racquet-sport background, Webb has found pickleball challenging.
“Singles pickleball is brutal,” he said. “It’s really meant to be doubles, but there’s a few idiots like me who like to challenge themselves in singles by playing it on a doubles court.”
Webb said he picked up the sport because it spiced up his exercise routine. A snowbird in the winter, he will be on the move when he gets back to Erie County for the summer.
Webb participates in a golf league three times a week and plays in a senior tennis league twice. Saturdays are his pickleball days, usually spent at Westwood Racquet Club or the Boys and Girls Club of Erie, two regular meeting sports of the Erie Pickleball Club.
“Pickleball is working out, and you don’t even realize you’re doing it,” he said. “It’s a fun workout. Because of my age and how that limits the amount of people that can play it at that level, to be at that level is what makes me feel good.”
Before traveling north, however, Webb still has one big event down in Florida, this time on the golf course. He is scheduled to take part in the National Senior Games in Fort Lauderdale.
“I’ve been in it many times, but have never won Nationals,” he said. “Seventh place is the highest I’ve ever been. It’s the first time I’m in ’80 and over.’ I’ve got to try it and I’ve got to go for it.”
Contact Josh Reilly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ETNreilly.