SenioRITAs: A dream that evolved into a reality

Helping cancer patients in the community

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Early in 2000, an article appeared in a newsletter regarding a women's doubles tennis tournament to benefit breast cancer research sponsored by The RITA Foundation.

RITA stands for "Research Is The Answer."

This article caught the attention of Mary Pappas, a member of the Sawgrass Country Club Tennis Committee. The tournament was to be held at Jacksonville Golf and Country Club. Pappas contacted the RITA director, Chuck Jantz, and suggested the tournament be held at Sawgrass Country Club. Jantz checked with his committee, and they did not want to change the tournament location.

Meanwhile, Jantz, being ever resourceful, came up with a plan to have a separate tournament for players 40 and over called the SenioRITAs and to be played at Sawgrass Country Club. He offered this to Pappas, and she reported back to the tennis committee. They approved it and submitted the plan to the Sawgrass Board of Governors. The plan was approved, and thus SenioRITA was born.

A SenioRITA Committee was formed. It was decided that proceeds from the event go to Mayo Clinic and Baptist Medical Center Beaches for their breast-cancer research programs.

The tennis scheduling was handled by Sawgrass Tennis Director, Chuck Saacke. The dates were set: Oct. 21 and 22, 2000. The auction party was on Oct. 19 at Atlantic Restaurant and Bar in Jax Beach with many in attendance.

The tennis tournament was a big success. The money raised was $26,000. The amount of $13,000 was donated to Dr. Edith Perez of Mayo Clinic. Perez was grateful because it was to go towards a refrigerator to store the cancer samples.

Baptist Beaches was pleased because the amount of $13,000 was to go towards their mammography program. Everyone was happy with the results of the first SenioRITA.

In 2000, the money raised was $26,000; in 2021 the money raised was $240,000.

Wow, what an incredible effort for a cause dear to our hearts.

— Submitted by Mary Pappas

Fast forward to 2022 and SenioRITAs’ amazing progress:

Currently SenioRITAs at Sawgrass provides funding for cancer research, education, equipment and patient care programs. It is the largest charity tennis event in Jacksonville, supporting cancer care and research in the community for more than 23 years.

Organizers have raised more than $2 million for the cause, and last year was the recordbreaking year, raising $240,000. A hundred percent of the profits go directly to the cause since the committee is all-volunteer.

SenioRITAs supports cancer research and care at Mayo and Baptist hospitals, plus the Dignicap at MD Anderson (a recent technology to prevent hair loss for cancer patients) and, last but not least, the Buddy Bus, a mobile mammogram unit for the underserved.

The Buddy Bus, pictured at the launching is a joint effort between SenioRITAs and Jeannie Blaylock, First Coast News, who referred to SenioRITAs as her “angels” who came through for her during the pandemic to help fund the bus. SenioRITAs has given $50,000 toward the Buddy Bus and the sister tournament, Mixed Rita, has given $50,000, for a total of $100,000 from the RITA Foundation.

Baptist received $183,000 in 2021: $10,000 for the fourth Buddy Bus payment, $45,000 to existing endowments that support Baptist MD Anderson programs and $128,000 to five new endowments to provide ongoing funds for additional programs.

In 2021, a $55,000 grant was provided to Dr. Al Copland and his breast cancer lab. The group also added $2,000 to one of the Mayo endowments. 

Each year, 222,000 women and men in the United States are diagnosed with breast cancer and 45,000 die. SenioRITA’s efforts, and those of faithful friends and businesses are working hard to help find a cure. The 2022 three-day tennis tournament will feature nearly 300 women participants from Jacksonville, Southeast Georgia and several other states. The Buddy Bus will be displayed at the tennis tournament Oct. 14-16, 2022, for everyone to see the state-of-the-art equipment.

In addition to the tennis tournament, the annual kick-off party will be held at Pussers Caribbean Grill on Oct. 4 and the live and silent auction party on Oct. 10 at the Sawgrass Country Golf Club. The auction party is well attended with 250 guests and more than 200 items.

There are several ways a person can become involved and support this worthy cause. One can be an active committee member, help out at the tennis events, make online donations at the website mentioned below, be a sponsor or purchase a pink flag for a loved one who was stricken with cancer. The pink flags are displayed along the walk to the courts, and written on each flag is a memorable message to a loved one.

For more information about tickets or events, contact Jantz at chuckjantz@gmail.com or go to the-rita-foundation.org/senioritas.

— Submitted by Beverly Roman

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