WHEELING - The annual Elks Tournament of Champions plays host to the region's top youngsters in tennis and golf. Two local residents will be looking to make their mark on this year's event when competition get under way Sunday.
The tournament, held at nearby Seven Springs Mountain Resort, features some of the top under-19 competitors from West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and Washington, D.C. It runs from Sunday through Tuesday.
Representing Wheeling Elks Lodge 28 at this year's tournament are 17-year-old Hayden Blazer of Glen Dale, tennis, and 15-year-old Elizabeth Douglas of Wheeling, golf. Blazer will play in the men's senior division and Douglas, the women's junior division.
Photos by Scott McCloskey
Come Sunday, two local students will be participating at the Elks Tournament of Champions at Seven Springs Mountain Resort. Elizabeth Douglas of Wheeling, who will play in the golf tournament; and Hayden Blazer of Glen Dale, tennis. Both represent Wheeling Elks Lodge 28.
The Wheeling Elks invited Blazer to participate in the tennis event, while Douglas won the women's division last month during the lodge's annual Junior Golf Tournament at the Wheeling Country Club.
As a rising senior at John Marshall and a member of the Monarchs tennis team, Blazer has distinguished himself as one of the area's top tennis talents. He's hoping his second trip to the Tournament of Champions - he played last year in the junior division - will help him against the tougher competition at the senior level.
"I went last year and I absolutely loved it, it was such a great experience," Blazer said, noting he made a number of new friends. "It's very generous" for the Elks to play host to such an event.
Blazer's been swinging a racket since the fourth grade, when he started taking lessons from local professional John Chatlak. He's since moved on to lessons at Oglebay Park with tennis professionals Marc White and Evan Clifton.
"It's made me better learning from different people," he said.
Blazer also credits his older sister, Olivia, for working with him during the years. "We used to be on the same team, we started tennis together, and she would hit with me all the time. ... She's been with me since the start, and she still comes to my matches."
His favorite tennis player is Rafael Nadal. And much like the Spaniard, Blazer hopes to show the tenacity and determination needed to succeed at this year's Tournament of Champions.
"I'm really excited about this year, I've gotten so much practice this summer," he said. "I look forward to the competition."
He is the son of Mike and Denise Blazer.
At 15, Douglas, a sophomore at Wheeling Park, already has recorded two holes in one - one at Oglebay's Crispin course and one at a golf course in Maine. Come Sunday, she's hoping to ace Seven Springs' course when she competes in the junior women's golf division.
Douglas has been golfing for the past six years, and credits much of her development to her father, Joseph, her brother-in-law, Doug Roby, and also her swing coach, John Wilson.
She's a member of Wheeling Park's golf team who also will be participating for the second time at the Tournament of Champions.
"It was so much fun, I really enjoyed playing last year," she said. "The course at Seven Springs is so nice. I want to thank the Elks, I am very grateful to them for this event."
Her best round to date is a 77 at Oglebay's Crispin course. Not too bad for a youngster who lists professional golfers Adam Scott and Paula Creamer as her favorites.
"I just hope to play really well and win," she said.
She is the daughter of Joseph and Dianna Douglas.
The Tournament of Champions
Jeff Miller, a trustee with the Wheeling Elks Lodge, said the Pennsylvania Elks started the Tournament of Champions in the early 1980s. The tournament soon expanded to include other states, and West Virginia has been participating for about 25 years, he said.
The event has been held at Seven Springs since its inception, and Miller noted the local Elks are highly appreciative of Seven Springs for its continuing support.
"The kids really do love this event," he said. "Seven Springs is an absolutely beautiful resort, and the folks there have gone out of their way for years to accommodate the Elks."
The Wheeling Lodge has had a number of champions over the years, Miller said, primarily in tennis and bowling, a sport offered for years until interest waned among youngsters.
Golf is the most competitive event, he added.
"We've had a few golf champions, but it's such a competitive field," he said. "We've done well in tennis, and our kids generally hold their own very well against really good competition from our surrounding states."