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It’s small world on tennis court for Thai girls

This is, indeed, a small world. How else do you explain the chance meeting of Thai exchange students on a tennis court in a small northeast Washington community?

Wannita Cherdchairith is from Surin, northeast of the capital of Bangkok. Bees Ratpibul is from Surat Thani on the peninsula that juts well south and borders the Gulf of Thailand.

Both became No. 1 singles players in their first tennis experience for Wilbur-Creston and Sprague-Harrington and played each other last Saturday in a marathon match.

“We played a really long game, probably like three hours,” said Cherdchairith of her 6-3, 6-7 (4-7), 7-5 victory for Wilbur-Creston. “Afterwards we talked and shook hands.”

They discovered a common bond nearly a third of the way around the world from home. When asked where she was from, she told Ratpibul. “She was like, ‘Are you kidding me? I’m from Thailand, too,’ ” Cherdchairith said.

Or as Ratpibul explained it, “I went, ‘No way!’ ”

To make sure, they spoke to each other in their native tongue.

Although she has no previous tennis background, Ratpibul plays badminton.

“You could tell by her backhand stroke, her defense and consistency, how she had it from badminton,” S-H coach Jim Furman said. Ratpibul also played junior varsity basketball.

Cherdchairith is in her third sport. Prior to tennis, she worked her way onto the state-placing volleyball and basketball teams.

“She’d never played tennis before she came here,” coach Wayne Kannberg said. “(She) just had some pretty good athletic ability. She wanted a total American experience.”

Both arrived at their respective communities coincidentally. Ratpibul chose the U.S. over New Zealand. Their exchange travel groups determined the host families.

But it’s not uncommon for exchange students to be housed in small communities. Wilbur-Creston has a Vietnamese player. Furman said he has players on the boys team from South Korea and Venezuela. They have been a godsend to a program hit hard by graduation over the past couple of years, he said.

“We had an exchange student from Brazil last year who was pretty good,” Furman said. “Harrington must have a pretty good reputation.”

Rigorous school days in Thailand last longer and class size is larger, said the girls. They began learning English in elementary school.

Both have loved their experience here – except maybe for the cold and record snow, coming as they do from tropical heat. Neither expressed an urgent desire to leave anytime soon.

“I’d rather stay here,” Cherdchairith said. “I don’t want to go back, but Mom would be mad if I don’t.”

•Friday and Saturday is the venerable Inland Empire Tournament. The 64th edition will attract players all over from schools large and small. Last year Richland topped Mead 149 to 123. Freeman’s Lea Jansen is defending girls champion and Mead’s Stime sisters, Britta and Katijene, are defending doubles champs.

Tigers at it again

Defending champion Lewis and Clark boys and girls golfers are chasing a repeat of last year’s near-flawless seasons. The girls have won their first two league matches by an 80-stroke average, led by Chessey Thomas.

Both have won several area tournaments including Monday’s annual Inland Empire Tournament by a stroke over Coeur d’Alene. Peter Gullickson was tourney winner for the deep teams. Each returns three state veterans.

Dean gathering

Former Central Valley football players are reminded of Saturday’s opportunity to recall the life of late coach Charlie Dean at 10 a.m. in the school cafeteria. Dean died at age 83 last month. He coached the Bears from 1964 through 1974, going unbeaten seven times while winning 84 and tying two of 97 games.