Game Changer: Local kids competing for important role on the international stage

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Photo credit: WLOS Staff

The Fed Cup is an international event that draws visitors from around the world to each host site throughout the tournament; however, it’s the individual areas where the matches are played that often carry the load when it comes to pulling the event off. Hundreds of volunteers are needed to help welcome the throngs of visitors that will be in Asheville in February as the United States takes on the Netherlands.

One particular group of volunteers, however, are doing their job best when they go completely unnoticed. “I've been in the Asheville tennis community for over 23 years now,” said Sarge Luke, who is serving as the Ballperson Coordinator for the first round in Asheville. “I heard the Fed Cup was coming to town and I wanted to be involved.”

A ballperson’s job description is pretty simple: get the ball. When a point is finished one of six ball persons, positioned at each corner of the court and two at the net, rush to grab the ball and return it to the side that is currently serving. Those tasked with the duty have to avoid disrupting play and sometimes angry players. “The event is really about the players themselves,” explained Luke. “The kids are supposed to disappear into the background, but for them to participate is really an honor.”

Dozens of kids showed up at the Grove Park Indoor Tennis Center to vie for that honor. One was Drake Gallian, who stands out not only for his hustle, but for the cochlear implant on the right side of his head. “You hear nothing without the magnet in your head,” Drake said. He was diagnosed with Progressive Hearing Loss when he was two years old, and fitted with his first implant at three. “He went from moderate to severe, and severe to profound within months,” his mother, Cindy Gallian, said. “That made him a candidate for a cochlear.”

Despite being slightly behind kids his age in the beginning, Drake made up ground quickly. “You worry about how that will affect their life,” Cindy said, pausing. “A lot of things go through your mind” Drake excels in school according to his mother and has fallen in love with tennis. He was introduced to the game through his sister, and then took it up for himself. “Getting to play with others and being competitive,” Drake answered when asked about his favorite part of tennis.

Now, Drake is standing out in the ballperson field. Although the large crowd gathered for tryouts will be pared down into a select few, Drake can rest easy because of how he approached the opportunity. “You just have to try,” he stated. “If you don't make it at least you still tried.”