For Caroline Haynes, tennis was never just a hobby.
That hasn’t changed for the former instructor and one of the driving forces behind the sport in Blount County — even as she approaches her 83rd birthday.
“I think there’s something about me,” Haynes said. “I’m just very competitive.”
On March 13, Haynes showed just how competitive she still is when she placed first in the women’s 80’s doubles division of the National Women’s Senior Association Championship at the Daniel Island Club in Charleston, South Carolina.
It’s one of many feats she has notched over the last four decades, during which she was nationally ranked.
Haynes spent 35 years teaching tennis for Parks and Recreation in Maryville, and she was inducted into the Blount County Sports Hall of Fame in 2002 and the Tennessee Tennis Hall of Fame in 2007.
“Tennis is not about winning, it’s about competing,” Haynes said. “You’re playing the ball, not the people. It’s about competing within yourself.”
A South Carolina native, Haynes moved from Shreveport, Louisiana, to Tennessee in 1976. Her husband was in the Air Force, and the family moved around for his job before finding a permanent home in Maryville.
Haynes got into tennis in her 40s — a time when her kids were graduating from college. The year both of her parents died three months apart, Haynes decided she needed something to help her cope with the loss as well as her empty nest.
“My husband and I had a big discussion,” Haynes said.
“What do we want to do with the rest of our lives? When I get to be old, I want to be healthy, I want to travel and I want to be around people. We said, ‘What fits that?’”
It didn’t take the couple long to find a solution.
“We both said it together,” Haynes said. “‘Tennis.’”
The Haynes didn’t just dip their toes into the sport. They jumped all in and built a court at their home.
However, opportunities for fellow Maryville residents to play tennis were virtually nonexistent back then as the Greater Knoxville Tennis Association allowed only Knoxville teams in the league.
Haynes did something about that. She reached out to Parks and Recreation, lobbied to get the courts restored at John Sevier Park and became the department’s volunteer tennis director. She organized leagues and began teaching tennis every Monday from March to November.
The courts have since been named the Caroline Haynes Tennis Courts in her honor.
“It brought her great joy to see people grow in the sport,” Maryville’s Superintendent of Recreation Kelly Forster said. “Parks and Recreation and this community were very fortunate to have Caroline teaching so many people for so many years. … You can tell that the game of tennis brings her a lot of joy and happiness.”
Haynes also coached adult and junior club teams for years, and she coached at Maryville College from 1977 to 1980.
It was around that time Haynes began to compete in tournaments across the country.
Success certainly wasn’t instant. Haynes said she got beat.
“A lot,” she added with emphasis. “Tennis is a sport where you can continually learn. You can always get better — doesn’t matter where you are in the sport.”
That’s exactly what Haynes did. She said the turning point for her happened in her 50s when she won three state titles in a single day in Tennessee’s singles, doubles and mixed doubles championships.
Haynes’ long-time friend and fellow Blount County Sports Hall of Fame inductee, Joe Black, is a physical therapist and athletic trainer who has served the community for some 40 years.
Black said there are generations of tennis players who got their start with Haynes. He has one of her first rackets in a display case in his office.
“When she was 70, she looked 50 and played like she was 30,” Black said. “She is one of the most premier athletes this community has ever seen. You think about her age and watch her on the tennis court, it’s truly amazing.”
Haynes has been ranked among the top 10 in the nation in singles and doubles, and she spent more than 20 years ranked first in the USTA southern section, which encompasses nine states. Her greatest achievement came in 2013, when she won the 70’s singles gold medal in the Wilson Cup at the European Clay Court Championships in Austria.
Only the top 10 players in her age group in the United States qualified to compete in that event.
Tennis has taken Haynes all over the country. All the while, her husband, Jim, has been by her side.
The pair has been married 63 years.
“The biggest thing is how supportive my husband has been,” Caroline Haynes said. “He said to me, ‘You followed me all of my Air Force life. Now I’ll follow you. Let’s go do it.’”
Jim Haynes attends all of Caroline’s tournaments, always clad in a red shirt so that she can spot him.
Caroline Haynes can recall just one time looking out into the crowd of spectators and not seeing him. After the match, she asked him where he’d been.
“He said, ‘Somebody needed a ride back to the motel, so I gave them one.’” Caroline Haynes said, laughing. “Everyone just loves him.”
Last week, Jim Haynes watched Caroline and her doubles partner, Ingrid Rehwinkel of New Jersey, advance to the NWSA championship in a grueling 3.5-hour semifinal match, which they won 6-2, 1-6, 6-2. For the title, they defeated Ann James of Ohio and Mary Hays of Alabama, 6-1, 6-1.
Jim Haynes called his wife “very focus-minded” and “an inspiration.”
“Everything she’s done, she’s excelled in,” Jim Haynes said. “She has encouraged people to play tennis. It has been a social outlet for a lot of women who have never played a team sport. I’m just very proud of her. She keeps me young.”