The only major professional sports event conducted in the U.S.
in this week of warring emotions was the Big Island
Championships, a WTA tournament at the Hilton Waikoloa Village
on the Kohala Coast of Hawaii. Not that Arantxa Sanchez Vicario,
Justine Henin or Lisa Raymond played on blithely as the nation
wept. When tournament director Eric Kutner, 28, got the call to
turn on his TV early on Sept. 11--the day after the event's main
draw had begun--he blanched, canceled play for the day and so
informed the WTA.
Then, with his brother Jeff and event staffers Ben Hodgson and
Simon Porter, he watched the towers burn and fall. All except
Eric are or have been emergency medical technicians. They were
watching their brethren. Jeff Kutner, 22, a paramedic for Capital
Health System in Trenton, N.J., who was in Hawaii working as
assistant tournament director, said, "I worship those guys. When
the first tower came down, we screamed, 'The command post! What
happened to the command post?'"
It was set up too close to the base of the Twin Towers, and more
than 300 emergency workers were lost in the pyroclastic-like
flows of ash and steel. "Our instinct is to be there," said Jeff,
who planned to fly home on Monday night and hopes to volunteer
for the rescue effort. "Our mother's instinct," said Eric, "was
that Jeff should just stay in Hawaii."
Early Wednesday morning Eric Kutner conferred with players and
with venue and tour officials, agonizing over whether to
continue. That day, news of a groundswell of other sports
cancellations gave the WTA brass pause, so it punted to the young
director. It was Kutner's call.
September 23, 2001
"We had three things to consider," he says. "Safety, logistics
and propriety. We were safe because the athletes were already
here. It might have been more dangerous to send them back out
into the wild world."
Logistically, it seemed easy to cancel the tournament and not
have to pay $140,000 in purses. "But it's the first year, and
we're trying to build something," said Kutner. "I hated myself
for even thinking in those terms."
Then there was the big one. "What, exactly, is a decent
interval," Kutner asked, "after the worst thing that has ever
happened to us?" No answer could satisfy everyone. Scalded by
grief, Kutner and his staff decided to go ahead with the
tournament but agreed to create a powerful memorial service. "Not
just a minute of silence," said Kutner. "One that meant
something, a rededication."
At noon last Friday, with the flag at half-staff, players,
spectators and officials filed into the center court stadium at
the Hilton Waikoloa Village. Eric Kutner told them that he felt
continuing to play was correct, but that it was right to remember
those who had lost their lives and those taking part in the
A Hawaiian kahuna, or priest, performed a haunting chant of
mourning and explained that anyone who wished could drape a
flower lei, symbol of love and yearning and evanescence, over the
net. That night, as happens almost daily in the waters above the
USS Arizona in Pearl Harbor, five islands over, the leis would be
cast upon the sea. Fifty or so people walked past and left leis.
One--a tall, sunburned man, sweating in white--was Wayne Newton,
who then led the gathering in America the Beautiful. Finally,
neighbors joined hands and gave themselves over to wherever
silence took them. "And crown thy good with brotherhood"
infiltrated one's consciousness the rest of the day.
The players felt the weight of the occasion. "It was good we
didn't have to try to play on Tuesday," said Sanchez Vicario, who
lost in the second round. "I couldn't have done it."
The Europeans, whom one might expect to be hardened to the
realities of terror, were not. Second-seeded Sandrine Testud of
France reported that airports were on alert in Rome and Paris and
that it felt like a "new stage" of war. "We had our Basque
separatist terrorists in Spain, but they've kind of stopped,"
said Sanchez Vicario. "But here, the innocents and, oh, the
The top-seeded Henin of Belgium, a fierce 19, said, "This wasn't
unleashed just on the U.S. It was against all of us.
"I'm a sportswoman," continued Henin, who was trailing Testud
6-3, 2-0 when she retired with cramps in her left hamstring in
Sunday's final. "I'll do anything to improve, but we have hearts.
You want to do your best for...them."
Rededication. Sanchez Vicario likened it to competing only a few
days after her father had had a serious heart attack in 1994:
"The best I could do for him, he said, was to play and win. I
used the pain of that to motivate me."
On Friday night, after the day's last match, Eric and Jeff
Kutner, Hodgson and Porter carried boxes filled with the leis
that had been blessed in the stadium ceremony past a stone Buddha
and onto a black lava point. There they cut the garlands' strings
to avert any danger to marine life and cast them softly, one by
one, into the calm Pacific. Then they sat in silence, shoulder to
shoulder, under the Milky Way, reflecting.
Their prayers and a gentle offshore breeze spread the leis over
the sea, save for a few representing those unlucky souls who
always seem to get hung up on the rocks. As they floated there,
it was easy to see them as a bridge, or at least an undulant
orchid archipelago. A prayerful end. A respectful beginning.