Did you know?
By Jim Reffkin
Did you know that a new record was established in Arizona High School Tennis this year? Congratulations to Kendra Strohm of Salpointe High School for winning the 5A State Singles Championship for the fourth straight year. Even though the Salpointe girls team was runner-up to Phoenix Xavier (the Salpointe boys were runner-up to Brophy) the individual accomplishment is a feather in the cap of the Salpointe tennis program and its coaches Perry Touche and John Condes. The two schools, a rivalry between Phoenix and Tucson, have pretty much dominated the annual team championships every year and provided competition for bragging rights by loyal supporters.
In 4A Boys, Roland Kotwica's Rincon team edged out Rob Salant's Catalina Foothills for the team championship. Adrian Lai eked out a win over Evan Feldhausen 6-2, 7-6; while in the girls, Coach Kristie Steven's Catalina Foothills team dominated with Hala Sufi defeating team mate Jennifer Kaufman, 6-3, 6-1 in the finals.
Unfortunately, unlike 5A, 4A uses an antiquated point system to decide the team state champion, definitely diminishing the value of a team winner when only half of the participants are eligible to play. For some reason, even though they want to, the coaches can't seem to adopt the 5A format which is identical to the college NCAA team championships. Wow, what a disservice to the 4A players!
These championships were also a much needed opportunity to bring attention to our sport in our local schools. Its always been interesting to me how interscholastic tennis survives in our school system when there is not a great deal of support from the media, athletic departments, parents, players and respective tennis coaches.
Why is this and what needs to be done to strengthen the position of tennis in high school athletic programs, particularly at a time when our young people have a tremendous amount of choices in selecting their leisure time activities? Doesn't tennis need to examine their way of doing things that attract kids to participate in tennis. Or better yet, shouldn't the USTA, the governing body of tennis, examine its goals to help secure the promotion of tennis in our nation's schools.
As a former Athletic Director and tennis coach in the 1960s I have a pretty good understanding how the Arizona Interscholastic Association (governing body for high school athletics) works and how the USTA can help strengthen our popularity and position in the Arizona high school sport scene. What better way to increase participation in our USTA programs and increase USTA membership than directly collaborating with interscholastic tennis. Please consider the following suggestions:
Assign USTA Staff - Establish responsibility in the Phoenix and Southern Arizona USTA staff, a responsibility for promoting high school tennis in their job description.
Board of Directors - Solicit an automatic place on the Phoenix and SAZ Board of Directors for a knowledgeable tennis coach and include high school tennis as a budget item.
Summer Leagues - Establish and promote summer leagues for high school players below USTA ranked caliber.
Create Attractive Events - Before, during or after the season develop events with innovative formats to attract participation. One day doubles or mixed doubles events, one day quadrangular team events, or how about a two hour "tennis carnival" inviting all varsity and JV players for challenging fun events that could become an annual social event for coaches, players and the USTA. And don't forget High School Invitationals to kick off the season with much needed anticipation and excitement.
Dual Meet Scoring Formats - Use "collegiate scoring" doubles first with an eight game pro-set, followed by a ten game pro-set for singles or match tiebreak in lieu of 3rd set. Tennis dual meets must be "time definable" like other major high school sporting events which take approximately two hours. Why shouldn't high school tennis implement shorter dual meets following existing college and professional guidelines?
Facility Improvement - High school tennis facilities need at least six courts, a water fountain, shade, a 4X8 foot plywood announcement board to hang on the adjacent fence, and at least one set of five row bleachers facing away from the afternoon sun. To help enrich the tennis experience, local USTA officials should take it upon themselves to help provide these basic needs for both participants and spectators. Player car washes, raffles etc. would serve as a vehicle for matching the USTA funds and bring attention to school administrators on the importance of the high school tennis program.
And one more interesting note, did you know that Andy Roddick supported the match tiebreak in doubles so he could play both singles and doubles in tournaments? Well, recently Roddick beat Pete Sampras in the National Clay Court Championships in Houston and then won the doubles championship with partner Mardy Fish. This was possible because the ATP players council approved the super scoring by a 6-4 vote at Indian Wells. If you look at the men's professional box scores, all ATP doubles matches are using the match tiebreak in lieu of 3rd set.