Jenelyn Russo

By Jenelyn Russo

Jenelyn Russo

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Anaheim Ducks Dedication: The Tennis Balls

I love storytelling. And as a hockey fan, one of my favorite things to do is to learn the story behind how other fans have come to love this great game. Everyone has his or her own unique tale, and each one is always fascinating to me. Sharing these stories with each other reminds me of one of the reasons why I love hockey so much; the fans, especially Anaheim Ducks fans, are some of the best people out there.

I recently met up with another girl who loves hockey to hear her story. It was a very long overdue meeting IRL (in real life) with one of the nicest and most recognizable Ducks fans out there, Lady Tennis Ball.

If you are a fan of the Ducks, or if you happen to catch any of their games on television, you’ve probably spotted Dawn and her husband, Lewis, sitting in their season seats in the lower bowl behind the goal, wearing their unmistakable neon yellow sweatshirts. Those bright sweatshirts and their Ducks Dedication have earned them the nickname “The Tennis Balls” from the Ducks Director of Publications and New Media, Adam Brady, who will often refer to them in his Ducks Blog and live game logs.

After several seasons of spotting them inside Honda Center and on TV, and after many months of talking hockey with Dawn on Twitter (@LadyTennisBall), we finally met in person. Two girls who love hockey, sharing what the sport has meant to each of us. Good times.

I didn’t recognize Dawn right away without her signature sweatshirt, but it only took seconds for us to dive right into our love for the game and we were fast friends. Hockey has a way of doing that with people, don’t you think?

A lifelong fan of the NFL and the Rams, Dawn was hesitant when her husband suggested taking her to a Kings hockey game in the late 80’s. The first game she attended got off to a slow start, but then suddenly, there was action. There was fighting. There was blood on the ice. And she was hooked. When the Mighty Ducks got their start in 1993 in Anaheim, she and Lewis were among the first fans to commit to being season seat holders. And they have been ever since.

She reminisced about a conversation she had with her brother, who lives in New Jersey and is a die-hard Devils fan. They spoke at the beginning of the 2002-2003 season.

“Wouldn’t it be great if our two teams met in the (Stanley Cup) Finals?” she recalls saying.

And then a funny thing happened. They did.

Dawn traveled east to see the Mighty Ducks in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals in New Jersey and her brother traveled west to see Game 6. No Ducks fan will ever forget the indelible images of Ducks goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere in that Game 7 loss to the Devils accepting the Conn Smythe (Playoff MVP) Trophy with tears streaming down his face. As a good brother does, he gave his sister space to deal with that loss, but was also one of the first to congratulate her when the Ducks won the Cup in 2007.

And what is the story behind those sweatshirts? I had to know.

Dawn doesn’t recall the year exactly, maybe 2005, but she and Lewis were on their way back from a trip to Mammoth and had to rush home and get changed before heading to the Ducks game that night (totally committed fans, of course). They ran out of the house, wearing only Ducks t-shirts. When they got to Honda Center, Dawn knew she would be freezing inside without a sweater or a jacket. So they grabbed the only thing available to wear—bright neon yellow sweatshirts that Lewis had in the back of their car. A custom home builder, Lewis had purchased several of the sweatshirts for his employees and sub-contractors. They had no idea that wearing those sweatshirts that night would have such an effect on their lives as hockey fans.

In the midst of a frustrating multiple-game losing streak, Anaheim won that night and all of their fellow Ducks fans who sit around them declared the day-glo sweatshirts the reason for the win. And they insisted that Dawn and Lewis wear them to every game going forward. So for the most part, they have.

“They’ve taken on a life of their own,” says Dawn of the sweatshirts. Over time, she’s added her own touches, sewing the Ducks logo and a webbed “D” onto the shirts. The fact that they are so easily recognized has given these two the opportunity to meet other fans of hockey and the Ducks from all over the US and even other countries. Not one to love all of the attention, Dawn is just grateful for the people they have met along the way and the lifelong friendships that may otherwise have never developed. And she can count at least a dozen people they know who were introduced to hockey have become fans of the game, all because of a brightly colored sweatshirt.

We talked about how we miss our Ducks (is it October yet?), but like true hockey fans, we are still watching the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Because there is nothing like playoff hockey. And Because It’s the Cup. The Tennis Balls have “adopted” the Phoenix Coyotes as their team for this playoff run, and have made their way out to the desert for a couple of games so far. You may have seen them at Game 5 of the Western Conference Semi-Finals when the Coyotes defeated the Nashville Predators, 4 games to 1 to advance to the Western Conference Finals against the Los Angeles Kings.

I somehow had missed that they were going to be at the game that night in Glendale, so when I turned on the TV and saw that bright yellow neon in the middle of the “white out”, I had to smile. I told Dawn that seeing them there sort of made me feel like all was right with the hockey world. Many Ducks fans, like myself, are cheering for the Coyotes too, as they look to stop a very good team and Pacific Division rival from up the freeway. Dawn says the fans in Phoenix have been outstanding and they welcome the support. Since Phoenix finally got their first win of the series in LA on Sunday, there will be a Game 5 in Arizona on Tuesday night. And the Tennis Balls will be there, wearing their sweatshirts and cheering for another Coyotes victory.

It’s without a doubt, the perfect tale of an ordinary event that has turned into an extraordinary experience for the both of them. All because of their love for hockey and the Ducks.

Another great story about hockey bringing people together. As a girl who loves hockey, I think those are some of the best kinds of stories out there. Don’t you?



Photo of the Phoenix Coyotes via and Adam Brady’s Ducks Blog

Thanks to one of my favorite storytellers, Shawn Hutcheon, for suggesting I tell Lewis and Dawn’s story.

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