On the tennis courts at 5:30 a.m. Home by 7:15 to help with breakfast. Drive kids to school at 8. Office by 8:30.

Some Topekans who work, raise kids and shoulder adult responsibilities are winning on the tennis courts as well.

A group of men from the community recently placed second in the nation in a competition at Surprise, Ariz. Playing out of the Genesis Health Club, the team of 10 qualified for nationals in the 3.5 ability level by winning district and sectional competitions.

John Ayres, Matt Barker, Mark Bettis, Ronan Boyle, Chris Contee, Marcus Contee, Tyler Grindal, Mark Herman, Brett Klausman, Robert Lane, Lee Leinwetter and Banks Whitney emerged from the Missouri Valley Section that encompasses Kansas, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska and Oklahoma.

They advanced to the USTA Adult League Nationals, held Oct. 4-6 in Surprise, against the representatives of 16 other sections. Playing two singles matches and three doubles matches, with two players resting each round, they survived four pool matches, then a semifinal match before losing in the finals.

“What’s awesome about it is there were 37,000 participants in the nation, and particularly to be coming from a pretty small tennis population, relatively speaking,” said Danny Williams, director of tennis at Genesis and coach of the team.

The group, which Williams described as "junkies," was made up primarily of men in their 30s and 40s. The team also included 18-year-old Boyle, a Hayden High School senior who will be one of the top players in the state next fall. It helped, Williams said, to have the best player on the team be a young singles player with skills sharp from high school competition.

The benefit of combining teenagers with adults in the community goes beyond the court, Williams said.

“I coach a lot of juniors, and I try to get them involved with groups of men or women as soon as they turn 18, because I think it’s such an important thing for the mentoring,” Williams said. “They learn a lot about life pretty quickly being around the adults.”

Boyle had Banks Whitney, a recent graduate of Topeka High, to pal around with, but he said he enjoyed playing with the older men as well, and said playing with adults is helping develop his skills.

“It’s fun. They’re really comfortable to hang around with,” Boyle said. “It’s good seeing a different style of play. (The adults) tend to be more crafty, probably play with less power. It’s absolutely helping me improve, especially just from getting so much more match experience.”

The challenges to competing in a sport as an adult are obvious, Williams admitted, listing everything from parenting to keeping regular hours at a job to managing the physical toll.

“I coach them just like I coach the juniors,” Williams said. “We don’t sugarcoat anything. They work really hard. This particular group of guys, we do a lot of 5:30 a.m. practices, going 5:30 to 7, three or four days a week, leading up to nationals.

“That schedule works really great because if they have kids, they get in the practice before their kids are up getting ready for school. So they can still get home to help get kids to school or get to work. Once they understand that they still have that ability to compete and have success, it’s addicting to a lot of them. Then they will pass tennis on to their kids and it can become a family thing.”

Williams said the benefits of competitive tennis extend beyond the physical. He called tennis "a cognitive game" that has long-lasting mental health benefits.

“As you stop doing things, your body stops wanting to do things. Sometimes you don’t want to get up in the morning because your shoulders hurt or that kind of thing,” Williams said. “But the more we get that repetition, the more they see the benefit. They lose weight, they feel better, and they don’t have to do it by pumping weights or running crazy amounts. And they get to do it with people they like, and they develop great friendships.”

The second-place finish by the adult men in the 3.5 rating classification isn’t the first success experienced by a team from Topeka. Williams said a 4.0 level women’s team took second at nationals last September — out of about 60,000 participants in that ability group.

“Our club has had a great amount of success at the national level over the last several years,” Williams said. “We’ve had five teams place in the top three at nationals, which is amazing when you consider the numbers they are competing against.”

Teams reform every year after ratings from USTA come out in December. And only three players from a team are allowed to come back to nationals the next year in the same ability group. So the group that took second at nationals earlier this month will be broken up. Williams said part of the fun of team tennis is “trying to re-create the magic with different pieces” each year.

Williams praised the efforts of team captain Ben Seitz, who guided the 3.5 level team despite having advanced to the 4.0 level himself.

“He couldn’t play on the team, but he did so much of the legwork,” Williams said. “I think the players on the team, to a man, would tell you that a big reason they did so well is because of Ben’s dedication and commitment, the research he does on the other teams, critical stuff.”