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Team-Building. Literally

Tufts University Original Pyramid

The first pyramid picture from the Tufts / UMASS Tournament - the start of
a new "tradition" at big events.

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

Campus Traditions from Tufts University Club Tennis

Tennis On Campus has always meant more than just showing up, playing and going home. It's about having fun, keeping the competitive fire burning and most of all, it's about enjoying the game and the company on the court.

One club, though, is taking team-building literally, and to a whole new level (also literally) with its own tradition: making human pyramids after major tournaments. Tufts University's club team has been practicing its unique habit for more than a year now, according to current member Jesse Sessler and recent grad Katie MacDonald. Here's some Q&A about that....

TOC: So, um, a pyramid. How did that get started?

MacDonald: I believe the first the first pyramid was created at the USTA National Tennis Center in New York--the site where they play the US Open. Tufts Club Tennis was invited to compete in the Battle of the Sections in September 2010 as one of the four school representatives from New England. I think we were just all having a great time and really enjoying the experience--and we were doing pretty well in the tournament too. One of our old teammates, now working as part of the Teach For America Corps in New York City, came down to watch. A t some point it came time to take the scrapbook/Facebook-worthy team photo to commemorate the experience, and with our old teammate able to snap the shot, it opened up more possibilities for a full team photo--without leaving someone out. And we were at this epic site with so many schools, and it was just such an accomplishment for our club, I just blurted out 'Let's make a pyramid.' In my head, I think a pyramid photo, as opposed to the traditional line across, is an accomplishment equal to competing at the US Open. We all tried to figure it out, and the process was a mix of fun for those of us on top and maybe some pain for the boys at the bottom. But we were all laughing (and grimacing) and it was hard to get the shot before someone collapsed or fell off. The place was amazing, the process of making a pyramid was fun, and the photo came out awesome and we kinda have just kept going ever since.

TOC: How often do you do that?

Tufts University Battle of the Sections Pyramid

The Tufts University team in 2010 at the Battle of the Sections - USTA
Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

MacDonald: We only do it at the really meaningful tournaments we play in.  It's sory of a mini-honor to appear in a pyramidplay in. It's sort of a mini-honor to appear in a pyramid photo. We don't take random ones and we don't practice the formation--it's all spontaneous and it obviously tougher to get a nice shape with six people rather than nine. But the challenge is half the fun.

TOC: Do you foresee it continuing for generations of students to come?

MacDonald: It is not long-term yet, but I think it has a chance to be round for a while. Our team, in general, is really great at combining competitiveness and fun, and that is basically how the pyramid photo was formed. We have had a lot of success but the team is really good at knowing that tennis is a game and team tennis is meant to be fun.

Sessler: I think the pyramid will last as long as the team ends tournaments with smiles on their faces and want to take a photo together--and hopefully that will be a long-term tradition.

TOC: Do you recommend other teams find something special and fun to do that helps build team camaraderie?

MacDonald: Absolutely. Tufts has played a lot of teams and we

Tufts University 2011 NCC Pyramid

The Tufts University team completes the pyramid during the 2011 USTA 
Campus Championship in Cary, NC.

have seen the worst of teams being too intense and maybe losing some of the fun that comes from team sports and friendships and everything else involved with club tennis. I'm one of the most competitive people around, but I know I can't always win, and at the end of the day only one team wins a tournament. Everyone else needs to take something away from their experience that makes playing this sport, or any sport, worth it for them. Whatever teams can do to make that tangible for themselves and their teammates just means that they will have a stronger camaraderie, closer friendships, and hopefully they will be able to just relax and have fun.

Sessler: We are a team that has made some noise at sectionals each year, but we're not one of the powerhouses (yet!). Having these fun little traditions/activities are what makes these tournaments so much more fun than just a competitive tennis match.

TOC: Do other teams have pyramid envy?

Sessler: I'd have to assume everyone is crazy jealous when they see us. I've heard a rumor that UMass has stolen the pyramid, but, to be clear, it will always be a Tufts tradition.

MacDonald: Tufts Club Tennis is just simply the best team around, and thanks to all my teammates who took my knee into their backs in order to take a great picture.

Note: Does your club team have a tradition? Tennis On Campus would love to write about it for a future newsletter. It can be silly, serious, sportsmanlike -- anything. Send an e-mail to tennisoncampus@usta.com.

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