INDIANAPOLIS — “It all happened so fast,” recalls Patrick Mahoney.
The 10-year-old Brownsburg native was walking off the court during the 1991 GTE U.S. Men's Hard Court Championships with the other ball kids when he was served several questions from an Indianapolis Star photographer.
“I didn’t know who he was or even that he was even part of the media at first,” Mahoney said.
“I answered them because I honestly thought they were innocent. He just asked my name, age and the town I was from. Nothing about the match and nothing about the players.”
That volley of information lasted fewer than 10 seconds according to Mahoney, who didn’t think much of the exchange and went about his day.
Mahoney returned to the courts the following morning and gathered for a meeting with the other ball boys and ball girls before the day’s matches began.
“I remember that morning vividly.”
Mahoney remembers a tournament organizer holding up a copy of The Indianapolis Star. Plastered across the front page was a picture of Mahoney mid-yawn with the caption, ‘He’s having a ball!’
“I remember thinking, this is awesome! The kids near me were slapping me on the back and giving me high fives and telling me how cool it was that I was in the paper. I was on cloud nine at that exact moment. Until he spoke.”
Mahoney says the tournament official reminded the ball kids of a rule which prohibited them from talking to the media. The official then fired Mahoney in front of everyone.
“I couldn’t believe what had just happened. I walked out, upset, and went to find my dad.”
Gary Mahoney was volunteering in a vendor booth and upon hearing about his son’s termination, he went back to discuss the matter with tournament officials.
Patrick Mahoney says his father was angry like any father would be in a similar situation. When talking to officials didn’t work, Mahoney did an interview with a local radio station about the matter.
“He did everything he could to get me hired back. And it worked.”
Mahoney was rehired the same day and was back on the court the next morning.
Former WRTV reporter Marilyn Lis spoke to Gary Mahoney about his son’s ordeal.
“What he did was against policy — it just seemed to be such a small infraction that I just wanted them to reconsider.”
Mahoney says that was the beginning of his tennis career. He continued playing through high school and plays recreationally today. Mahoney is also teaching his own children the love of the sport.
As for yawning, Mahoney says, “I definitely yawn more today than I did back then. But that was the only time it ever got me in trouble.”