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Dudley Bell: World Conference veteran was born with his game on

by Jill Phipps, USPTA staff writer

<i>Bell hits it off with legendary coach Tom Gullikson at the 2008 World Conference.
Bell hits it off with legendary coach Tom Gullikson at the 2008 World Conference.

September 2011 -- Dudley Bell has missed only two opportunities to attend the USPTA World Conference on Tennis over the past 50 years.

Bell, who joined the U.S. Professional Lawn Tennis Association (as it was known) in 1959, loves seeing old friends and attending educational seminars at the annual World Conference.

But the all-pro tournament is the main reason this three-time New England Division Pro of the Year has become a well-known regular at the nation's largest tennis teachers conference.

The 79-year-old resident of East Burke, Vt., plans to compete in both singles and doubles during this year's World Conference, Sept. 19-24 at Saddlebrook Resort in Wesley Chapel, Fla.

Through years of entering the International Championships, Bell has won several USPTA national singles championships, all in the 60s and older age groups, and nine doubles titles. He and Bill Roberti took the men's 70-and-over doubles division in the 2010 tournament, when "they put us in with the young guys," as Bell quips.

"I look forward to playing at the convention every year," he said. Participation may be a bit spotty in the higher age brackets, but Bell is always game for a challenge. "It's me against whoever wants to show up."

Dudley Bell is a competitor at heart, and his passion for tennis stems from a lifelong love of sports in general.

"That's me, that's my calling - there's hardly a sport I haven't either taught or played at a pretty fair level," he said. "To be able to compete with people who are really good - that I enjoy. I don't mind losing if I know I've played as well as I can expect to."

Over the past 18 years, Bell has participated in nine biannual National Senior Games, the world's largest multisport event for athletes age 50 and over. Athletes qualify for nationals based on their performance at their state competition (placing among the top three or four in their age group).

Bell earned a spot in the 2011 Summer National Senior Games, held June 16-30 in Houston. And he took home a silver medal in the 400-yard relay, which was one of 11 different track and field events he entered. The other events were 100-, 200- and 400-meter runs, javelin throw, shot put, discus, long jump, triple jump and pole vault. He also placed fourth in racquetball doubles and earned a sixth-place ribbon in singles.

What's his favorite event? "Whatever event I'm doing at the time," he replies with a smile.

Bell stopped by the USPTA national office while in Houston for the games. Bell, who doesn't smoke, drink "or use four-letter words," was tan and fit, wearing a gold "Aged in Vermont" T-shirt and looking younger than his years.

"I kid people at home that I'm trying to outlive everybody so I can come home with all the medals," he said, laughing. "They say, 'Yeah, look at you - you probably will.'

"I expect I will join the 100-year-olds at the senior Olympics (one day)," he said in earnest. "I'm looking forward to Cleveland in two years; I'll be with the 80-and-overs. I love it! There won't be quite so many guys."

Surprisingly, he did not compete in tennis at the 2011 Senior Games. Bell likes a different challenge. Besides, he figures he will get his tennis fix playing in the tournament at the World Conference.

He said he also has a blast back home with a weekly senior-men's tennis club that he started 10 years ago. There were eight members then; now he has a ladder of 50 players.

Bell loves golf as well, but he doesn't just go out and play a few rounds for fun. He prefers to compete in four golf tournaments a week. He has been participating in the annual World Amateur Golf Championships in Myrtle Beach, S.C., for the past 25 summers and has frequently placed in the top 10 in his age group. He then heads to the U.S. Open, as he did earlier this month, to watch the tennis matches for a couple of days before heading home to Vermont.

The Bells relocate to The Villages, a retirement community an hour from Orlando, Fla., from February to April every year. There he spends any given week playing as many as 10 different sports - tennis, racquetball, pickleball, volleyball, softball, soccer, golf, track and field, badminton and basketball.

Bell has always been an eclectic sportsman. He was organizing athletic events for neighborhood kids by the fifth grade, and has dedicated most of his adult life to physical education.

He taught PE and coached eight different sports, including tennis, at Lyndon State College in Lyndonville, Vt., for 25 years. He eventually started both the tennis team and a tennis management major, although the college didn't even have tennis courts when he hired on. LSC established the Dudley Bell Tennis Center and Museum in his honor in 2005.

Bell retired from his full-time position at Lyndon State College in 1996, but still teaches a half-semester tennis course there every fall. "I love teaching," he said. In fact, he offered to do it for free, although the college insisted on providing some compensation.

Bell is proud of the foundation he's given both junior and college players in various sports. This career coach and lifelong athlete counts himself fortunate to have done so many things he enjoys and (hopefully) to have made a positive impact to boot. "I've had a pretty charmed life," he said. "It's been a lot of fun" - and still is.
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