Leslie Adelstein, then a tennis rookie, still vividly remembers the surprise and embarrassment of being the last student standing when her seventh-grade instructor would tell boys and girls to take a seat and study those left on the court.
Nearly 50 years later, Adelstein and her doubles partner, Mary Beaumont, will try to be the last women standing at the United States Tennis Association 4.5 Senior National Championships Oct. 19-21 at Indian Wells Tennis Garden in Southern California.
Adelstein and Beaumont, stalwarts of the Northwest sectional championship team, will be cheered by 4.0-rated reserve player Wendy Warner, giving the Bellingham Tennis Club three members on the 10-woman team.
Adelstein hopes to celebrate her 62nd birthday on Friday, Oct. 19 with victories in both round-robin matches scheduled that day. But one way or another, the three close friends will have a party that night.
Beaumont is a 1979 graduate of Biola University -- where she was an NAIA basketball All-America and averaged 21 points per game as Mary Schwab -- wonders what she'll face at Indian Wells. Likewise, Adelstein, who is one of the most accomplished and experienced players on her Northwest team, says they have no idea what their chances are.
"All I know is that we don't play teams from California, Texas and Florida in our round-robin pool," Beaumont said, talking of perennial senior tennis powers.
Instead, the Northwest team will face Missouri Valley and Northern teams on Friday, Oct. 19 and New England on Saturday, Oct. 20. Semifinals follow later that day, with the championship and third-place matches of the 16-team tournament set for Sunday, Oct. 21.
Matches consist of three doubles events, giving six women a chance to play in each match. Four-point-five, as their rating level is pronounced -- not four and one-half -- is the second-highest rating in USTA tennis.
"We like being 4.5 because there are so few local playing opportunities for 5.0 players," said Adelstein, noting that the USTA assigns ratings based on a formula. "Rick (her husband) got a 5.0 rating a while back and he found it really limited his chances to play locally in tournaments."
The women are looking forward to playing on the Northwest team with former Bellingham resident Barb Kinloch, a close friend who now plays out of Yakima.
"Barbara got me into tennis when we (she and husband Tom) moved to Bellingham in 1984. "After a few years, I stopped playing to focus on raising our three children. But Tim Trott (a BTC member) coaxed me back into tennis a little more than half a dozen years ago."
The 5-foot-4 Adelstein, an aggressive net player with a multitude of moves, soon found herself paired with Beaumont, a 5-foot-10 master of different ground strokes, in 2006 for their only previous appearance in the senior nationals. Now they have far more experience together.
"I told Leslie I needed to play both with her and against her to learn. Leslie has amazing net skills and I have ground strokes, so I love playing doubles," said Beaumont. "She's improved my game a lot. When I played basketball, my game was to outsmart my opponent with my moves. That translates well to doubles strategy. I love that you never stop learning."
Adelstein couldn't agree more.
"I feel like even at my age, I'm still learning and improving," she said. "I still have so much to learn."
With that attitude, both women say they hope to play into their late 70s and 80s, as several BTC members have done and still do.
"We're really inspired by our seniors at the club," said Adelstein.
Both women say Warner's encouragement and devotion to tennis -- not to mention her 4.0 level skills as a practice partner -- have helped them more than they can express.
"I think Wendy might be the biggest sports fan in Bellingham," Beaumont said. "She loves many sports. She'll go to an interesting event where she doesn't know anybody and still enjoy it."
Adelstein and Beaumont both have three grown children and have attended countless athletic events, including more than their share of tennis.
Two Adelsteins, Ari and Carrie, played No. 1 singles at Sehome. They and sister Lindsey are fourth-generation employees of Rick's Bellingham business, Louis Auto Glass.
All three Beaumont children were multi-sport athletes. Michelle, a former Sehome basketball all-leaguer, scored more than 1,000 points at Seattle Pacific University, joining Mary as a 1,000-point college scorer. Molly, who won a state doubles title at Bellingham, figures to play No. 1 singles for the fourth consecutive year at George Fox College in Oregon. Brian also was a state doubles qualifier during a standout career at Bellingham.
"Our entire family, siblings, cousins, nieces, nephews, is one huge tennis family," said Beaumont. "When we get together, you'd better bring a tennis racquet."
Adelstein also will have plenty of family support.
"Rick and Lindsey will be at Indian Wells as fans," she said.
Adelstein, who played on the early girls' tennis teams at Pasco High, didn't grow up with a tennis racquet.
"I was such a tomboy. I would play any sport in the neighborhood and I could hold up my end," she said with a laugh. "I just loved tennis right from the start, when my seventh-grade history teacher wanted to teach us tennis. I was so embarrassed when I was the last one standing at drills. But I became totally self-motivated, since my family did not play tennis."
In contrast, Mary Beaumont and her four siblings learned tennis early on from their father.
"I remember at my first lesson, I swung my racquet and hit my sister Ann," said Mary, who like Leslie has more tennis memories than she can count.
Leslie recalls that she and Rick, who met at Western Washington University, loved the game so much they became original members at the BTC in the 1970s.
"I played through three pregnancies," Leslie said with her infectious laugh. "I remember being surprised when I played tennis in the morning and delivered our first child that night, three weeks early."
Adelstein said it was a thrill to qualify for nationals by winning the sectionals in June at Sun River. Ore. The Northwest team was one of two to advance with a runner up regional finish at Yakima in April.