Sioux Falls, SD
This is the time of year when many of us look forward to strapping on snow skis. But some tennis enthusiasts are still picking up their rackets in the cold weather and heading to the McKennan Park courts where an unusual rivalry is afoot.
It's game, set, leg. As night falls and the temperatures drop, some tennis hard cores hit the court.
"We've played as cold as 26 degrees, so we're kind of tough," Wooden Leg League player Jeff Kroon said.
The competition is fierce, but friendly.
"We get along pretty well, we might go out afterwards, but a little more social, makes it more fun," Wooden Leg League player Tim McCarthy said.
But it's not just the competitive comradery that sets these players apart.
"People coming up and down the center court, they do a double-take every time and go what is that?," McCarthy said.
Kicking-back courtside is an artificial leg with a trophy mounted on top. It's the prosthetic prize awarded to the weekly winner of the Wooden Leg League.
"I've been around legs my whole life, so it's nothing new to me," Kroon said.
The leg belonged to Kroon's dad Marvin, who lost his own in a motorcycle crash 60 years ago.
"And he was on a borrowed motorcycle, he just took a little ride, crashed into a car, broke his leg, complications set in and they had to amputate his leg," Kroon said.
But Kroon's dad lived an active life right up until his death 12 years ago. In fact, this was the leg he wore while water skiing.
"You can see it's got a few repairs there," Kroon said.
The leg is actually made of fiberglass. But, the Fiberglass Leg League doesn't quite have the same ring.
"I was over at my mom's place and I saw this leg hanging in the garage and a light went on and I said, 'hey, this would make a great tennis trophy,'" Kroon said.
A dozen men make up the Wooden Leg League. They rotate doubles partners and the player with the most victories at the end of the night earns the trophy.
"Everybody rubs it in everybody else's face. You get a little prestige being that week's winner," McCarthy said.
Some purists might find playing for an artificial leg to be a rather morbid breach of proper tennis etiquette. But league members find no foot faults with the trophy.
"We could have had a crank-case or whatever as a trophy. This just happens to be it and it's as good as anything. Sorry there," Kroon said.
Even though it's a leg, this isn't a traveling trophy. The winners cannot take it home with them.
"I am in charge of the leg. I just don't trust some of these guys to make sure they bring it every week, so I'm the keeper of the leg," Kroon said.
So the winners have to be content with having their picture taken with the trophy and then defend their title a week later. The net result is a father-son reunion.
"I think about him all the time," Kroon said.
With dad taking the Wooden Leg League all in-stride.
"He had a great sense of humor and he would have just gotten a big kick out of this, that we took that old leg and we made something out of it," Kroon said.
After each week's matches, Kroon takes the leg home and hangs it in his garage, next to the squeegee he uses to wipe away rain, or snow, that's fallen on the tennis courts.
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