When the weather cooperates, high school tennis players can hone their skills on the many public courts throughout the Mid-Shore with a respectable amount of social distancing. But whether they’ll be able to use those skills to compete for their schools this spring remains very much in doubt.
With schools closed because of Covid-19, the latest directive from the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association, posted on March 13, listed the earliest that spring contests can begin as April 6, with practices getting underway again as early as March 30.
With increasing restrictions on gatherings in Maryland, local high school tennis coaches don’t seem optimistic about returning to the courts for team practices anytime soon.
“I don’t know if we’re going to get a chance to get out there again. I hope were are,” said North Caroline head coach Dennis White during a telephone interview on Tuesday. White said he told his players to try to go out and hit the ball around if they get a chance. “I have no idea when we’re going to be back. We were told from the AD (Athletic Director) that we’re not allowed to have any practices or anything like that, so they’re kind of on their own.”
North Caroline’s last practice was last Thursday and they were scheduled to scrimmage on Tuesday against Sts. Peter and Paul. Prior to the school closings, the regular-season was set to begin today. White said the Bulldogs currently have one senior on their girls’ roster, Sally Miller, and four or five on the boys’ team, including No. 1 and 2 singles, Brett Schreyer and Eli Canade.
“I know there’s more important things, but sports have always been really important to me, and there are a lot of kids out there that it means a lot to them, so you hate to see them lose it,” said White.
Former North Dorchester head coach Jerrard Thomas is now coaching the boys’ team for Cambridge-South Dorchester. Before schools closed, he told his players: “I told them to let them know that hopefully, ‘All hope isn’t lost and if we do come back we’ll be midway into the season with only like nine or 10 games left, so we could still make a push for the North (Bayside) title.’”
The Vikings have one senior this year, Kane Shwartz.
“We are praying to all the tennis Gods right now,” said Thomas.
“Right now it’s two weeks, but it doesn’t look good,” said Queen Anne’s County boys’ coach Shel Gunther. “We were told that Thursday that this was our last practice indefinitely and that was probably the hardest thing I’ve had to do in the last 15 years, was tell them that we wouldn’t be playing anymore tennis. So we just did some fun things that last practice and told them that everything would get better, but I’m not too sure right now.
“I wish I knew more,” he added. “I would hope that we could get back and do something, even if it was just playing each North Bayside team once, something that would salvage the season, so I hope something works out.”
The Lions have four or five seniors, said Gunther, and one of the best players in the state in junior Hugh Meehan, who finished second last year in the 2A state tournament.
Lions girls coach Dee Fisher said his team didn’t believe the news at first.
“They didn’t think it was true that we weren’t going to be able to practice indefinitely,” said Fisher. “So a lot of the seniors are kind of sad to think that their season might not happen. And a lot of the new girls on the team that are excited to play tennis, they’re a little disappointed as well. I told them I didn’t know anything about when school was going to begin again, and if the season was going to begin again. So it was just a lot of question marks.”
With seven seniors, including Abby Blanchard and Claudia Leshinskie who qualified for the state tournament last year, Fisher is, was, expecting a very successful season this year. “All the seven seniors were on varsity last year,” he said. “When practice was ending was just as we found out the two weeks was going to be no school. So, it was almost like, ‘Hey, I’ll see you in two weeks and we’ll continue the season.’ That’s pretty much what we thought.”
Buccaneers’ girls coach Rick Tyng said his team learned about the two-week school closure during practice on Thursday.
“We met as a team after getting all that news and they were obviously confused with the virus but also upset that some of them had to put their senior and juniors years on hold,” said Tyng, whose teams have won four-straight Bayside Conference championships. “From a tennis perspective, we discussed that probably one of the healthiest things you can do is to be outside and, as long as you’re adhering to the social distancing, go out and keep playing. My captains have volunteered to conduct voluntary practices during the couple weeks that we’re out of business, so I think they’ve been on the courts relatively frequently since the break. No coaches, but the captains showing up with a basket of balls and the girls are out there trying to enjoy life.”
An assistant coach with Easton last year, Mark Cherwein has switched roles with Dick Kemp and is serving as the Warriors’ head coach. Easton’s boys have won three of the last four Bayside Conference titles.
“You tend to think that with everything that’s going on on the other side of the bridge, obviously all of Maryland and all of the country … it will be interesting to see where this all plays out for everybody. But we were looking forward to the season. We were really looking forward to the season,” said Cherwein.
Saints Peter and Paul’s boys’ team, which follows the directives of the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association, has suspended all athletic activities through at least March 29.
“It’s got to be a complete hands-off thing and they’re not to use any of the facilities. Now they can do some things on their own,” said Sabres head coach Tom White. “I’m probably going to try to get out to reach some of them, just practice a little bit, try to stay in shape, and we’ll see what happens at the end of the two weeks. I’m not sure that much is going to change in two weeks the way this thing’s looking.”
The Sabres’ girls compete in the Eastern Shore Independent Athletic Conference, which is following the lead of other local conferences.