home town team

The American Tennis I Want To See

Proud To Be A Buckeye

Growing up in Columbus, OH Ohio State Football was inescapable. Everywhere I turned I would see a t-shirt, a hat, a sweater, a bumper sticker, a license plate, a house flag, or a football with the Ohio State logo stamped on it. The Buckeyes consumed all of the available coverage on television and radio. All of my friends and family were Buckeyes fans. We would even exchange gifts on Christmas and on birthdays that consisted of new Buckeyes hats and jackets. The Buckeyes were everything.

This continued from birth until I left Ohio for Florida in 2009. Fortunately, the Ohio State Buckeyes travel well, so I would regularly come across Buckeyes fans in my daily travels. A quick shout of “O-H” would always illicit an “I-O” response. It was a little piece of

Target Sports Section
I can see Seminoles, Gators, and Dolphins all in one picture

home in a faraway place. The same cannot be said of American tennis. Tennis fans are much harder to find.

In my line of work I come across many different people and visit many different places. I visit College campuses, neighborhoods, and shopping centers and can point out the fandom of just about anyone by the clothes they wear. I can tell what city I am in by the merchandise hanging from the racks. Gators, Seminoles, Hurricanes, Dolphins, Heat, Marlins, Rays are in every store, reminding visitors that they are in Florida. The same cannot be said of American tennis. Tennis merchandise is much harder to find.

Ubiquitous: def. existing or being everywhere; omnipresent.

My Vision of American Tennis

Sports like football and soccer are popular because they are everywhere. The ubiquity of basketball and baseball make these sports a gathering place for the community. The local sports franchise is as much a part of the city as the Town Hall. After work, or after school, if you’re looking for something to do, or someone to hang out with, you can buy tickets to a game or meet friends at the local sports bar. Sports are an experience you can share with your friends. These shared experiences become the memories you carry with you the rest of your life; the glue that binds people together. Individual sports

youth tennis at Wide World of Sports complex
AATT at Wide World of Sports complex

struggle to live up to this metric; choosing separation and isolation as their chosen method of delivery. My idea of American tennis is very different.

My vision of American Tennis is one where cities across America have professional Tennis teams to represent the people of that city. Players are not playing for themselves, but rather for civic pride. I envision College tennis stadiums full of people supporting players they believe are playing for the “love of the game” or can make it to the next level. I can imagine every Parks and Recreation department in America offering Team Tennis to their residents as a means of bringing people together: players, parents, and extended family. My dream is to see tennis as a Gathering Place.

Ask Yourself These Questions

As currently constituted, and marketed by those in charge (USTA), American tennis is a challenging, individual, adversarial game requiring thousands of hours and tens of thousands of dollars just to participate. Am I the only one who sees these as reasons why people turn away from tennis? Am I the only one who hears the people saying that tennis is a game for ‘rich’ people? Am I the only one who can see the deluge of football, baseball, and soccer merchandise

The new home of American Tennis?
Why Does The USTA Need A Facility This Size?

at my local retailer while tennis merchandise is mysteriously absent? Am I the only one questioning the brand new, $60 million facility the USTA built in Lake Nona while the tennis courts in my neighborhood have cheerleaders practicing on them? True story.  Am I the only one hearing the lack of conversation about tennis in the general population? Am I the only person who hears the cries of “I love tennis. I just can’t find someone to play with”? What’s missing?

Those in charge of the game of tennis (USTA) have positioned tennis as a goal to be achieved rather than a game to be enjoyed. If someone enters tennis and refuses to be ushered along the ‘path to enlightenment’, they are quickly written off and told to find something else to do. There’s no “hanging out” in tennis. You must be prepared to work. On the other hand, Tailgating is a $20 billion industry with nearly 20 million people participating in some sort of tailgating activity on Game Day. Entire businesses have sprung up to meet the demands of those who are as content sitting outside the stadium, eating and drinking with friends, as opposed to going in to watch the game. If I were in charge of tennis, growing the fanbase would be my first priority.

Living Outside of The Top 5 Most Popular Sports

Out of all the sports available to those in High School, tennis is the 7th (girls) and 8th (boys) most popular sport, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations. More boys would rather wrestle, and more girls would rather play volleyball than play tennis. I believe the most effective

FAU Owls come to Palm Springs

way of turning that around would be if tennis told a better story. A story that compels people to pay attention, maybe sit down and watch for a while. People are drawn to things that draw crowd. Think about it: how many of us slow down to see what slowed down traffic on the freeway? (hand raised) If you hear music pouring out of the gym, are you going to swing by to see what’s going on? Yes! Why do football games have cheerleaders? To draw more of a crowd! Increasing your audience means you can then secure sponsors to pay for the stadium, the concession stand, the training facilities, even the bobble head dolls to give away on Game Day. It’s a numbers game and there’s strength in numbers.

My vision for American tennis would see the rise of the Home Town Tennis Team giving residents something to be proud of… Because Life Is A Team Sport! WHO’S WITH ME!?

GO TEAM!

Hometown Heroes – NCAA Div. 2 Tennis

The Men’s and Women’s NCAA Div. 2 Tennis Championships are taking place at the Sanlando Tennis Center in Altamonte Springs, Fl. Thursday May 11 would feature the semifinals for the Men and determine the semifinals for the Women. Representing the best NCAA Div. 2 tennis teams in America are:

Women’s Tennis Semifinals

Lynn University

Hawai’I Pacific

Barry

Armstrong State

Men’s Tennis Semifinals

Barry

Columbus State

West Florida

Southwest Baptist

These are the final 8 teams to battle it out for the right to call themselves “Champion”.

But what does that mean to you? Well, unless you attended one of these schools or live nearby, not much. But for the students, faculty, alumni, and surrounding community, it means everything. See, the local sports franchise is a Community asset. It is something for the People to be proud of.

For example, when I’m away from home, and someone asks me “where are you from?”, and I tell them “Columbus, Ohio”, images pass through their mind as to current events from my home town. And as a former resident, I can be proud of my home town because Columbus is home of THE Ohio State Buckeyes; and they’re awesome! Did I play a sport for the Buckeyes? No. But I lived there most of my life. I went to school there. My whole family and all of my friends are Buckeyes fans. And they’re awesome!

So for those of you in Boca Raton Florida, Honolulu Hawai’i, Miami Shores Florida, Savannah Georgia, Columbus Georgia, Pensacola Florida, and  Bolivar Missouri hold your heads high because your tennis teams are awesome!

GO TEAM!

#BestDayEver – Championship Saturday

That’s a big trophy!

Saturday, April 15, would mark the end of Season 15 of youth tennis with All American Team Tennis. And like we do every season, we held a big event that we like to call Championship Saturday. For those of you who are new to AATT, Championship Saturday is our “playoffs”; it’s the tournament at the end of a long season. Kinda like the NCAA Championships, but for little leaguers. It’s where our players, after a lot of trial-and-error, compete to find out who’s #1, in addition to rewarding our players for what they’ve accomplished during the season. Beginning with Season 14, Championship Saturday would also feature a visit from a highly-ranked University Tennis Team. Last season it was the Keiser Seahawks. This season it would be the Florida Atlantic University (FAU) Owls! But more on that later.

During the course of the season, the League (me) kept track of a number of stats: W/L, Serves Held/Broken, and Total Points. We use these numbers to determine things like Point Differential and Turnovers and award the players who performed the best over the course of the 10-week season. Then on Championship Saturday, the winners of the tournament are our National Champions! We save the tournament until the end the Season because too many tournaments can cause “Tournament Burnout”. One big blowout is what most people are happiest with. And isn’t that why we play sports: to have a good time?

Season 15 Award Winners

One of our season-ending awards is the Pennant. This award

That’s my squad!

is given to the #1 team over the course of the 6-week Regular season. We awarded the top 6 players with the best W/L numbers in Doubles with this award. So for Season 15, the Pennant Winners were the Knights with a record of 4-2, and the top 6 players were Amaris, Emmanuel, Michael, Esteban, Alethea, and Ava (pictured right). Now, you’re probably wondering why the players are wearing different jerseys. It’s because All American Team Tennis is all about the “Team”. And to drive home that point, each player played on a different team each week of the season. It’s a way of building Community among tennis players. And isn’t that what sports are all about: Community?

MVP, Ava, and her Dad, Coach Daniel

Next up would be the MVP.  The MVP is the #1 player on the #1 team. This season our MVP was Ava. Now, this is where all of the stats come in as Ava would lead the League in Doubles wins, Buckeye Leafs, Point Differential, and Turnovers.

  • Doubles wins: 7 – 3 more than #2
  • Singles wins: 4 – 2 behind #1
  • Buckeye Leafs: 28 – 3 more than #2
  • Point Differential: +47 – Tied for #1
  • Turnovers: +9 – 2 more than #2

And her award for being the MVP was a backpack; which is symbolic of how she carried her team on her back. Get it?

It was the biggest lollipop I could find

Next, we recognized the Sportsmanship Award winners. This is an award where Coach Ken chooses the players who best exemplify the spirit of All American Team Tennis. AATT is about building Community among its players. Creating an atmosphere of camaraderie, teamwork, communication, and making friends. It is built on the pillars of Sportsmanship which are: Fairness, being Gracious, and Respect for others. I watched the players as they interacted with each other and looked for the ones who were kind, considerate, and just plain nice. I look for smiles and high-fives and listen for how the players talk to each other. For Season 15, the players who best exemplified the spirit of the “team” were Esteban, Rubie, and Alethea.

Season 15 National Champions, the Owls

And we’ve saved the best for last: the National Champions! This one is very straight forward: the winners on Championship Saturday are the National Champions (I told you it was simple). Since each team has players from ages 6 to 13, we would play two courts of doubles, one for ages 6-10, and another for ages 11-13 to determine a winner. The total games won would be added together and the team with the higher score wins. On this day, Championship Saturday, the Owls would come out on top by a score of 12-7. Isn’t it ironic that OUR Owls would come out on top on the same day the REAL Owls were in attendance?! Crazy!

The Best Team in Palm Beach County

Now for the really exciting part: the FAU Owls, the Greatest Tennis Players in Palm Beach County came to our tennis courts to inspire the next generation of tennis player! It may not seem like a big deal to many of you but considering tennis tournaments only come here once a year (pitiful), having a Home Town Team is gigantic! The FAU Owls are a Div. 1 tennis team in the Sun Conference. On their schedule are teams like Central Florida, Old Dominion, and the Miami Hurricanes. The Owls would finish the season at 17-6, going 11-1 at Home. Next up for the Owls are the Sun Conference Championships in Tennessee, April 21-23.

The reason why a visit from FAU is such a big deal is because “celebrity matters”; and everyone knows about Florida Atlantic University. Their football stadium hosts the Boca Raton Bowl on ESPN each year. And the school is making headlines not only with their sports teams, but with their academics, too. And as a Div. 1 university, the FAU Owls are verifiably the BEST group of tennis players in Palm Beach County. Yes, Serena Williams lives in Palm Beach Gardens, but let’s be real: she doesn’t play here and she’ll never come to Palm Springs… so who cares. On the other hand, the FAU Owls are the Home Team and play all of their Home games in Boca Raton. It’s true their players come from Florida, Spain, Brazil, and France. But they’re big, they’re strong, they’re fast, and they’re Local. I can only imagine what would happen if there were a Professional tennis team playing here in Palm Beach County. What would it mean to the fanbase? Maybe THEN tennis could compete with other sports in terms of popularity. I’m being serious!

That’s Coach Ken on the left
I GOT IT!!!

After putting on a show for the fans, and signing a few autographs, Coach Ken would bring EVERYONE onto the court to play a game called Caterpillar. It’s a volley game, with six players at a time, rotating extra players in and out. You should have felt the energy on the courts. The kids were excited, the parents were cheering, FAU was getting into it, it was the BEST DAY EVER! How many people can say they “played Caterpillar with FAU”? Hmm? It was an experience our players will never forget. And hopefully enough motivation to keep them playing, and watching, tennis… at least until next season.

Field Trips and Championship Saturday happen every season but only the last two have featured a visit from a Special Guest. It takes time to develop that kind of relationship which is why the majority of kids would rather play basketball and soccer than tennis. And why, overall, Americans would rather watch football and baseball than tennis. Tennis tournaments aren’t around long enough to establish themselves withing the Community. On the other hand, College teams like Florida Atlantic and Miami and Ohio State are NEVER leaving. They belong to us. They’re OUR team. Can you feel the difference?

Opportunity Awaits

There is a gold mine of tennis talent laying dormant on our College campuses. It’s time we put these players to work promoting the game; visiting schools and Parks departments, hospitals and nursing homes, signing autographs, showing people how much fun this game is to play AND to watch. Becoming a part of the Community is how fans are made. Florida Atlantic University is a part of our Community. The players and coaches live, work, and play right here in South Florida. They are not playing for themselves, but rather for all of us. That kind of give-and-take is why I proudly wear the colors of the FAU Owls. #OwlsUp

GO TEAM! 

It’s Not About You or Me, It’s About US

On April 12, 2016, 100,00 fans packed the Horseshoe in Columbus, OH to watch the Ohio State Buckeyes take on the Ohio State Buckeyes in their annual Spring Game. Yeah! The Buckeyes played each other! On the same day, the Georgia Bulldogs set an SEC record for Spring Game attendance with 93,000 spectators. On Sunday September 4, 2016 the US Open set a record for attendance with 25,000 pouring through the turnstiles for the evening session. Combined with the 40,000 who attended the morning session, Sunday would become the biggest attendance ever with a total attendance of 65,797. Keep in mind: this took place over the course of 48 matches on 15 courts and would include men’s, women’s, doubles, and juniors.

I may be the only one thinking it, but I’m not impressed. If attendance is important enough to keep track of, report on, and set records for, shouldn’t tennis’ numbers

Huh?

be on par with the biggest sports in America? Shouldn’t tennis attract spectators the way football does? Or the way basketball does? Or the way soccer does? Shouldn’t a city of 8.4 million people (New York City) draw more than 65,000 for the “Super Bowl” of tennis, the “Granddaddy of them all”? Shouldn’t tennis draw more than 65,000 over the course of 48 matches played on 15 courts? That’s only 4300 per court, or 1300 per match. What would the numbers look like if there were only 6 courts instead of 15? 24 matches instead of 48?

If one football scrimmage can draw 100,000, I believe an entire tennis tournament should be able to do the same.

Popularity is determined by a number of different things including (but not exclusive to) audience (see above), participation, television ratings, and word-of-mouth. I’ve already touched on audience, now onto participation: the USTA believes there are 30 million tennis players in the United States. How they came up with that number, I don’t know, but statista.com says that 24.7 million people played basketball, 18.05 million people played football, and 11.12 million people played soccer in 2016 and these are some of the most popular sports in America. Now ask yourself: Does it feel like tennis is bigger than either one of these three sports? And is a sport’s popularity determined by participation? Or something else?

A look at the television ratings for the US Open gives a very clear picture of the interest in our sport from the nation as a whole. An organization like Major League Soccer topped out at 1.4 million viewers for the MLS Cup, which is on par with the 1.7 million people who watched the US Open Men’s Final. But what about a ‘UFC on FOX’ card on a random Saturday is December that draws 4.8 million? Or the NBA Finals between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors that drew 30.8 million viewers? Or the Super Bowl between the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers reaching 114.4 million viewers? What do these numbers say about tennis’ popularity?

Those are the television ratings, and those are important, but what does this mean to those of us on the local level? Are people talking to each other about tennis? Are they buying merchandise of their favorite player/team? Are they getting together with friends at the local sports bar to watch the big game? People talk to each other about the things they are passionate about, both good and bad. Are they talking about tennis? Ask around. The answer is ‘No’.

Chuck Sullivan, a member of the family who owned the New England Patriots before Robert Kraft bought them, says that “the professional sports team is a community asset.” 

But what does that mean? It means that the team belongs to ALL OF US, not just one person, and is the reason Robert Kraft did everything in his power to keep the New England Patriots in New England. But how many times have we heard a professional tennis player say they only play for themselves? In my humble opinion, that is self-centered, self-serving, and one of the many reasons the public, at large, is unable to identify with tennis players and the game they play. So while cities across the country are building new stadium homes for their sports franchises, tennis tournaments bounce around from city to city, never remaining in one place for more than a week or two. How are the citizens supposed to wrap their arms around the sport when the players are only here long enough to cash the check?

Check out that sweater!

When a professional sports league brings a franchise to a city, the players on the team become a part of the community. They represent the community on the field of competition. They live among the people of the community. Their kids go to the same schools and play for the same little league teams as your kids. They shop at the same grocery stores that you shop at. They eat at the same restaurants you eat at. They visit the same doctors you visit. They live in your neighborhood. They become one of US. And they’re here to help MY TEAM win.

 

The same can not be said for tennis tournaments. Professional tennis players are globetrotters, visitors, tourists, drifters, nomads; people who swoop into town once a year to receive our adoration, stay in our best hotels, eat at our finest restaurants, avoid the public as much as possible because they have to focus on their play, take their prize money, and move onto the next city. It’s no wonder tennis does so poorly in attendance and ratings when compared to other, mainstream sports. But there is a better way.

FAU Owls Mens Team supporting their teammates

The Home Town team belongs to the Home Town. And the players on the team belong to the home town, too. And we currently have, in very large numbers, teams and players representing the people of their Home Towns: College Tennis Teams. In South Florida, alone, there are the Hurricanes, Owls, Seahawks, Sailfish, Panthers,

Florida Gulf Coast Eagles fly together!

and Fighting Knights. Not to mention the teams in other major cities around the state and the country. All of them playing on behalf of the students, alumni, and citizens of their home town. They live in our neighborhood. They go to our school. They shop at our stores. They support our other sports teams. THEY are one of US.

So let’s support them in what they do for us. Attend their matches. Cheer them on. Buy their souvenirs. Because they’re not just playing for themselves… they’re playing for all of us!

GO TEAM!

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