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Some Unusual Sri Lankan Ball Boys
By Randy Cummings @ Match Point Racquet Sports

I had the good fortune to serve as a US Foreign Service Officer for over 20 years, working in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Philippines, Jordan, and Pakistan. I learned to play tennis in Afghanistan on red clay courts, and I played several times a week at each of my subsequent posts. One of the pleasures of playing tennis overseas is that most local clubs and community courts have ball boys to pick up stray balls, keep track of the score, offer advice, fetch drinks, etc.

One day the club I played at in Sri Lanka was invited to travel about 60 miles upcountry to play a friendly match against another club. When we arrived at the host club, there was a distinct absence of ball boys, which struck our team as a little unusual. Just as we began our warm-up, however, a large metal door at the back of one of the far courts opened and about a dozen or so men, ranging in age between 16 and 50, all wearing the same drab style of gray uniform, jogged happily onto the courts and took up their positions as ball persons.

It seems that the tennis club where we were playing was adjacent to the local prison, and as a reward for good behavior certain prisoners were allowed temporary freedom to serve as ball boys. They performed their tasks admirably that day. They were happy to be able to be outside in the cool afternoon sunshine, and we were happy to employ their services during our match. I can't remember if our club won or not, but I'll never forget the day we had prison inmates serving as ball boys.