The Evergreen boys tennis program needed something drastic in order to survive.
The numbers game did not look to be in Evergreen’s favor after so many seniors graduated last school year.
But after some in-school recruiting from players and coaches, the Evergreen boys got 20 athletes out on the courts this fall.
Maybe not 20 tennis players, but 20 people willing to learn.
Of the 20, 16 are new to the sport.
It was up to Evergreen coach Lee Emmert to try to keep them in the sport.
So he came up with a plan.
Evergreen remains a varsity tennis program, but Emmert has asked that other programs in the region do not bring their aces when they take on the Plainsmen.
“I have no intention of putting first-time players on the court against players who have had lessons since they were 6 years old,” Emmert said.
So he asked other coaches to bring in some of their lesser skilled players for their matches against Evergreen.
Not every coach is happy with this format. Emmert understands there is some frustration out there. After all, in varsity athletics, one traditionally matches up the best against the best.
Still, his numbers speak volumes.
“Tennis is a socio-economically divided sport. We’re doing what we can to break down those walls,” Emmert said. “The courts are full for the first time in years.”
Evergreen’s players are not as concerned about winning right now as they are just playing.
“The coaches make it about learning the game and having fun,” freshman Logan Nicholson said. “They never get mad at us for messing up. They encourage us to do our best.”
Nicholson described it as a “pressure-free” atmosphere.
“It’s all about the future for us,” he said. “We’re training to be better for the next day, then the next day, then the next day and then the next season.”
Sophomore Hector Rodriguez joined after a friend convinced him it would be fun.
“It’s been a great experience,” he said, holding a racket that was passed down to him. “I think I’ve improved a lot.”
That’s just in a month of organized tennis.
At Evergreen, there is a $50 fee to play sports, or $25 for families in need. Keenan Burris, the school’s athletic director, said that it is the school district’s policy that no student will be denied the opportunity to play because of that fee.
Rodriguez noted that for the fee, he gets months of tennis instruction and play.
“It’s totally worth it,” he said.
Jesse Thompson, a junior, is one of the few experienced players on the team. He has been with the program all three years of high school. While he wishes the team could compete like a normal varsity squad, he understands why the Plainsmen are doing what they are doing this season.
“It kind of makes sense,” he said. “We have a lot of people who have never picked up a racket. You don’t want to be out here just to be competitive. You want to come out here to have fun. That’s the whole point of the sport.”
Getting hammered 6-love, 6-love in 15 minutes would not be fun, the coach added.
Thompson said he feared there would not be enough players for a full team after last year.
“Then a whole flood of people came out,” he said.
Thompson and sophomore Joseph Mattson did their part by recruiting friends from school.
“I wanted to introduce people to the sport,” Mattson said. “You can improve in tennis every day.”
With enough improvement, this format, hopefully, will be a one-year deal, Emmert said.
To critics, Emmert said he falls back on one of the mottos of Evergreen Public Schools.
“Do what’s best for kids,” he said. “I’m trying to honor that.”