Randal Blankenship loves tennis. He loves interacting with people. And he loves being of service.
That’s the perfect trifecta for any volunteer at a professional tennis tournament, and it makes Blankenship an invaluable member of the volunteer force at the Winston-Salem Open.
Blankenship is in charge of marshals and ushers for the tournament. And it’s not just a supervisory role. He had to go out and recruit more than 200 volunteers to serve throughout tournament week.
Harold Pollard, a member of the board of Winston-Salem Professional Tennis, calls Blankenship the perfect example of someone from the community who has stepped up enthusiastically to do whatever is needed.
"I talked to him one week and the next week he had like 30 too many people," Pollard said. "He’s probably the single best example of, ‘Randal, will you take this tough job of ushers and marshals?’ and he says ‘Yes, I’d love to’ and then he goes and gets all these great people lined up. He’s probably the single best example of someone who gets so excited, and takes the ball and runs with it. His energy is amazing."
All told, more than 2,200 volunteers will work in various capacities at the tournament, which is scheduled for Aug. 20-27 at the new Wake Forest tennis complex.
Blankenship, an electronics engineer, has a long history of volunteer service. He volunteered at the Flow Motors Invitational in the 1990s, then worked all three Davis Cup ties that were held at Joel Coliseum.
"I just enjoy seeing people come out and appreciate tennis," Blankenship said. "It’s something they normally only watch on television and don’t really know how exciting it is unless they’re courtside. Anything I can do to help get people out there courtside watching tennis, I want to do."
He long ago came to realize how vital a role that volunteers serve at any major tennis event.
"A lot of people don’t realize how much volunteer help it takes to put on an event like this," he said. "For instance, just take the ushers. I am up to about 250 volunteers at this time, because I have so many shifts to run. If I had to pay those people even minimum wage, that is a significant amount of money just to show people to their seats. If a volunteer effort is what it takes, well, somebody’s got to do it."
Blankenship said that about 90 percent of the marshals and ushers he has rounded up come from USTA leagues. He has been playing in USTA leagues for the past 20 years and has built up a long list of friends and acquaintances.
He laughs about all the time he has spent on the computer in the time since.
"I had a list with probably 200 names on it from a Saturday morning group at Wake Forest Indoor in the wintertime, and then I went to the local league coordinators for mixed doubles and the men’s and women’s leagues in the spring," he said. "I got the league coordinators to send out invitations to all the league players and gave them my email address to respond. And then the fun began. I had no idea I would be living on a computer from that point. So it’s been an adventure."
Blankenship and Winston-Salem Open officials will hold an orientation for all marshals and ushers on Aug. 13.
"It’ll be about three hours," he said. "I don’t know how much training it takes to be an usher, but there’s some protocol you have to follow like not letting people move while the match is being played, only let people come and go and stand up and walk around during changeovers, and stuff like that. There’s a lot of people that just don’t know that. In a league event it’s not that stringent, but when you’re doing it professionally you have to be more businesslike."
Of course, the ultimate goal is to make the Winston-Salem Open an exciting and positive experience for players and fans alike.
"A lot of these players have really enjoyed coming here for the Davis Cup and enjoyed the citizens’ efforts to support it," he said. "We want to make it just as pleasant an experience so they’ll continue to come back. I can see this event turning into something huge if it works right."