By Marcia Neville, CBS4 Sports
She took in her two dogs and her two cats as orphans. When she found a porcupine in her house, she spent hours trapping and relocating it. The birds in Steamboat Springs know that Carol Baily’s feeders will always be full. But, when it comes to tennis, this Sportswoman of Colorado is no softie.
When she was just 10 years-old, Baily was nicknamed “Tiger” by her mentor, Colorado Sports Hall of Famer Phyllis Lockwood. And she’s been roaring on the courts ever since. Baily grew up in the 1960’s, a time when the women’s pro game was just getting started, college scholarships for women were rare, and indoor courts in Colorado were virtually nonexistent. Tennis was a summer sport, but she was so passionate about the game that she remembers shoveling two feet of snow off the courts at Carbondale’s Colorado Rocky Mountain School when she was a teenager. “My practice partner Steve Hobson and I shoveled between the service lines,” she laughed, “but it didn’t help much because the ball kept landing in the snow!” Teamed with Lockwood, “Tiger” won her first tournament title, the Boulder Open doubles, when she was 12. She laughs, again, when she remembers the photograph from that day. “Three mature women, and me as a preteen!” Then she continues, giving credit to Lockwood, “She taught me how to play serve-and-volley, which no other girls were doing at the time. Basically, she taught me to play like a guy.”
And that served Baily well in her one and only high school match. That day, she was included on the Rocky Mountain School’s boys team. The only girl on the court, she played at #1 singles and finished her prep career a perfect one-for-one! Later, as a walk-on at Arizona State, she was part of two national championship teams. And, as a pro, she was ranked as high as 51st in the world.
Over the years, Baily dominated the state, winning a combined 41 singles and doubles titles in Colorado’s three major tournaments. But it was in Senior Age Group tennis, where she won 28 national championships, that “Tiger” showed her true stripes. Beginning at age 35, she was the top cat for an amazing 15 years. The dominance started at the very first national tournament she entered. Not only did she win the title, she knocked off five seeded players in the process. Throughout most of the 1990’s, she was ranked #1 in the nation in both singles and doubles for her age division. She was a world champion and, in both 1991 and 1995, she was ranked #1 in the world.
Staying at the top level, however, took its toll. These days, Baily is out of competitive tennis and is teaching the game fulltime instead. “I had too much fun using up my knee cartilage,” she explains. “Now, I’m getting rebuilt.” Joan Birkland, another Colorado Sports Hall of Famer, is adamant when she says, “Except for those knee problems, Carol Baily would still be winning national championships.” So, those dogs and cats and porcupines and birds in Steamboat better not get too comfortable. And all those age group players better not relax — because if those new knees are up to it, “Tiger” could decide to roar again at any time.
I had too much fun using up my knee cartilage.