Spring sports notebook: Stuck in no man's landEllsworth tried to cut its boys tennis program in 2002, but a group of dedicated students and their parents vowed to keep it going with money from their own pocket. It's created a tricky situation.
By: Brett Boese, The Republican Eagle
Ellsworth tried to cut its boys tennis program in 2002, but a group of dedicated students and their parents vowed to keep it going with money from their own pocket. It's created a tricky situation.
The move came during significant budget cuts, which included 15 coaching positions. It also solved a Title IX issue, as Ellsworth had uneven numbers of male and female athletic programs.
While the administration continues to help with transportation costs, the boys tennis program acquires the rest of roughly $2,500 through fundraising.
In 2006, that equated to an extra $119 per athlete. As the numbers have dwindled, the monetary commitment has become a bigger issue. With just 12 on the roster this spring, each player has been forced to raise more than $200 to keep the program afloat.
The how has been almost as interesting as the why.
The Panthers have relied on the usual concession stand sales since 2002. This year was no different, as the student-athletes worked numerous basketball games.
However, two years ago the Panthers were forced to swallow their pride and make door-to-door solicitations. They encountered skeptical looks as many in town were unaware the program had been dropped. The players found themselves explaining their plight dozens of times as they fought to remain viable.
"It was not very fun for us," said Joey Kerr, the No. 1 singles player who is a four-year veteran.
Fundraising is a little different this season. Ellsworth's practice Friday will be a five-hour marathon that could raise hundreds - or thousands - of dollars. Each player has vowed to play 100 games before the day is over and is seeking compensation for their effort from family and friends, similar to a Walk for the Cure system that pays by the mile.
"The fundraiser part isn't necessarily what I want to be doing," said second-year coach Casey Keller, "but thankfully we've got a lot of parental support."
That support can't solve everything. Team numbers dipped below 20 for the first time this spring. Three times the Panthers have competed without a full lineup due to injuries and illness. Predictably, Ellsworth has won just once in the past two seasons.
Building a sense of excitement and commitment remains the biggest hurdle for Keller and the Panthers. Three seniors decided it wasn't worth the hassle this year and just two freshmen stepped up to fill the hole.
Keller recognizes the difficult path ahead, but he remains dedicated to building a strong program. Ellsworth Principal Mark Stoesz calls this season an anomaly.
Others are a little less sure of the future.
"It's fun for us, but we have been playing for four years," said Kerr, with a nod toward fellow senior Drew Hipple. "I don't know if I would come out as a freshman now. Now it's kind of like self-destructing."
Athletes of the week
Drew Hipple • senior
Dylan Greske • sophomore
Ellsworth’s top doubles team continues to be a bright spot in an otherwise frustrating year.
The Panthers have yet to post a victory this year as a team, but Hipple and Greske have had no such trouble at No. 1 doubles. The duo won twice last week to improve to 8-2 on the year.
Game to watch
Red Wing girls golf invitational
12:30 p.m. today
The Wingers will host their prestigious annual tournament at Mississippi National Golf Links. The field of 14 includes Woodbury and Minnewaska Area, the defending state champs, and the top eight individuals in the state.