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Tennis On Campus Inclusivity

2011 University of Maryland - College Park Team Photo

The University of Maryland - College Park currently has 200 members.

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

University of Maryland-College Park

University of California-Santa Barbara

New Mexico Tech

Three schools representing vastly different areas on the map, but they all have something in common: a TOC program that is open to everyone.

We know, we know: TOC is by nature open to everyone. But is yours, really?

TOC was founded in order to give everyone on campus a place and a way to play, outside of the varsity. But lately what we're hearing at TOC headquarters are two words we don't like at all: tryouts and cuts.

TOC is meant to be inclusive, not exclusive. We try to create broad appeal and provide opportunity on campus to anyone who wants to swing a racquet – and you should too. An organization that feels the need to audition potential players and cut some in the interest of getting only top-notch talent already exists. It's called the varsity program.

Benefits of inclusivity

Keeping your program open to all students, whether they want to play competitively, or whether they simply want to play for fitness and fun, means you can have a great core group of people -- and you can still retain your competitive edge.

"We have over 200 members in our club," says Justin Lui of Maryland. "I would say the majority are having fun and playing because they like to play. We also have a ladder of about 30 to 40 people who are playing competitively, but really, we market to anyone. This is club tennis — not the college varsity team."

Maryland offers a travel team (which Lui is on) as well as recreational play, and offers fun games and low-key lessons to anyone on campus who wants to learn more about the sport.

A larger program has multiple advantages. More members in the club means more individuals getting excited about tennis. They watch matches and cheer, and they spread the good word about the sport. Who doesn't want to be part of something popular and fun, particularly when it involves friendly people and offers a great way to stay fit?

At much smaller New Mexico Tech, a new program was able to get underway and maintain itself because of the interest of players of all levels, says Hani Barghout, and the club remains a multi-level organization.

"At a small school, it's hard to get people to be dedicated to a sport, and so the balance between fun and competitive play must be made," Barghout notes. "In fact, it should be a division, where the people who want to travel and compete are held to a different level of practice than those who want to play for fun or learn how to play."

Having more people in the campus club team can have material advantages as well. A large organization made up of dues-paying members means a stronger, more interested group. More players also results in more advocacy for the on-premises tennis courts themselves. If the courts are in constant use, the college has a reason to keep them in good repair, and to keep nets, windscreen and other accessories and amenities up to date as well.

Over at the University of California-Santa Barbara, co-president Michael Montgomery stresses the need to have an organization "that is open to everyone." The campus offers an event where all clubs and organizations can set up tables and market to students. This option has turned into a highly successful recruitment forum for UCSB's club tennis.

Montgomery says approximately half of the students involved are very competitive, but others are in the club to have fun, play tennis and meet others who do.

So why have a championship?

The question that will naturally come up, of course, is "Why offer a campus championship?" That's easy -- because Tennis On Campus wants our competitive players to have an opportunity to play others and enjoy pitting their skills against those of other club teams. It's motivational, it's fun and it allows club teams from all over to meet one another and have a great time enjoying their favorite sport. But at the end of the day, there's no scholarship on the line. Everyone gives their best and has a great time.

"It's not about the rankings," says Justin Liu, "it's about playing tennis for the joy of playing tennis. Whether or not you can play at that very high level isn't that important. Club tennis is for all kinds of levels."

Long-Range Benefits

Ultimately, a tennis enthusiast who keeps playing through college is going to graduate as a tennis-playing adult, not as a sedentary former player. A tennis playing adult is going to join leagues and keep on playing throughout life. A person who stops after high school because someone tells them they're not good enough? They're not likely to continue.

Being a club that accepts players, rather than judging their ability, is one of the cornerstones of the TOC concept. TOC was, after all, founded as an alternative to the varsity tennis team, so make yours as different from that program as possible. Welcome students of varying levels, and you'll find yourself with a lot more potential than you ever dreamed.

Have A Great Story To Share?
Do you or your club tennis team have a great story to share?  We'd love to hear about it - we're always looking for ways to promote you and your club tennis team in both local and national media outlets (i.e. magazines, newspapers, online sources, etc.).  Just fill out our Club Tennis Team Media Questionnaire and e-mail it to tennisoncampus@usta.com.  We'll do the rest!