The backs of the T-shirts worn by Hills?boro High School girls? tennis team members this fall proclaim the following: ?Hillsboro tennis doesn?t just build character, it reveals it.?
Is this just another catchy slogan, or is there really something to this idea? Just how might the game I have coached for the past five years or so at HHS influenced the character of team members? Are these girls more prepared for life than those who have chosen not to participate in the sport?
I believe they are. Here?s why.
First, there is the Kansas weather to consider. This year, the girls have played in 40-mph south winds and 40-mph northwest winds.
Just last Saturday, the Trojans took part in the Central Kansas League?s annual tournament in Pratt. Not only was the wind howling, it was swirling around the courts. The temperature was in the low 40s when play started. Even balls hit directly into the wind would act differently from minute to minute, one shot falling in front of the baseline and the next sailing long.
It had to be frustrating. Yet, I did not hear the girls complain about the conditions. They came prepared for the wind and cold, piling on layers of clothing that they peeled off one at a time as the day warmed.
On Tuesday evening of last week, a plague of creatures I can only describe as flying ants descended on the courts during a meet at Ellsworth. At one point, the ladies were much busier swatting bugs than balls.
One of my girls missed an easy shot when an insect dive-bombed her eyeball just as she was preparing to swing. The competitors played out the point, which went to the Ellsworth girl.
I later looked up the situation in the USTA rule book. Or, at least I tried. I could find no reference to a swarming of the court. The closest I could come was Rule 26, which states, ??the point shall be replayed if a player is hindered in playing the point by either an unintentional act of the opponent(s) or something outside the player?s own control.?
A specific example given is if a ball in play hits a bird flying over the court, the point should be replayed as a let.
The girls who were forced to play under these conditions were none too happy as they picked dead bugs out of their hair, eyes and ears for several hours afterward, but they all revealed character by continuing their matches, despite the swarms of biblical proportions.
It also should be noted that tennis players are their own referees. Can you imagine a situation in which football players were asked to call penalties on themselves? Yet, all the way up to the state championship match, tennis participants are responsible for making their own line calls.
In addition, they are supposed to self-report any ball that has bounced twice before being struck or any accidental touching of the net before the point is over. A player can ask for a line judge if she feels she has been repeatedly wronged, but this does not happen often because there is a belief that the girl will be labeled as a whiner and bad sport.
Usually, if a line judge is pressed into service, the problem goes away without the official needing to make any calls the rest of the match.
Even the spectators are subjected the rules of tennis etiquette. It is illegal for parents or friends to offer any advice or even talk to the players during the match. The only adults with permission to speak to the players are the coaches, and they can only talk to the participants during end changes that take place at the close of every odd game.
Fans are also asked not to applaud missed shots, only good plays. For the most part, those in attendance observe the unwritten conventions of the sport.
Coaches are also asked to display positive character. When we seed a tournament, it is important to remember that we need to preserve the integrity of the sport. Saturday, for example, the team with the top player in the league was running late. The seeding meeting began before the coach arrived to ?put up? his player. The rest of the coaches did it for him. The girl ended up winning the singles championship.
In tennis, temper tan?trums are not allowed. Cheating is seldom even a consideration. Perhaps, as another saying goes, this is why every tennis match begins with love.