Rain, rule send county tennis tournament down drain

·6 min read

May 17—Up against persistently bad weather and a rapidly dwindling window of time, Frederick County Public Schools pulled the plug on its annual county tennis championships Monday.

The move ends a long run of county tournaments played, with the exception of 2020 when spring sports in the county were wiped out entirely by the pandemic.

Outside of that anomaly, Urbana coach Jon Walton, who was coordinating the boys tournament, confirmed that the county tennis tournament had been played every year since 1996, when that school opened.

Oakdale coach Shaun Weiss, who was running the girls tournament, believes the string dates into the 1980s, if not earlier.

"Obviously, we feel awful for our tennis student-athletes across the county," said Kevin Kendro, the supervisor of athletics and extra curricular activities for FCPS.

The decision was made early Monday morning after rain and the inability to secure indoor courts rendered it impossible to play. The school system was unwilling to wait to see how a dicey weather forecast played out and decided to make an early call to provide clarity for everyone.

"Got some sad-face emojis," Urbana girls coach A.J. Stuart said after informing her players of the decision not long after their school days got underway.

The Urbana girls had three doubles teams that advanced to the county finals before the plug was pulled on the rest of the tournament.

The even bigger stumbling block was an MPSSAA rule that states that county-tournament and regular-season matches can not be revisited once a regional tournament begins.

In 2019, Urbana moved into a Class 4A region full of Montgomery County schools that operate on a different time schedule than FCPS when it comes to tennis. Those schools were scheduled to begin their regional tournament Monday, which would have prevented Urbana from playing any county-tournament matches after that point, according to the MPSSAA rule.

"I don't even understand the rule," Walton said. "There is no competitive advantage conferred by it."

Kendro said he spoke with the MPSSAA about the existence of the rule. Not wanting the county tournament to proceed without Urbana, he felt the most prudent decision was to not go forward with the rest of the tournament.

"That is the last resort," Kendro said. "The county tournament is a very important event. It has a lot of tradition in Frederick County. The good thing is a lot of student-athletes will be able to compete in regionals and then have states."

Kendro pointed out that, in previous years, this would not have been an issue because the regional tournament was always a week after the county tournament. So, theoretically, FCPS would have had Tuesday, Wednesday and possibly even Thursday of this week to complete the county tournament under the old format.

However, in 2019, the format for the regional and state tournaments changed, and things were broken down by classification as opposed to one big pool of players to award championship in boys and girls singles, doubles and mixed doubles.

This change also gave more latitude for some regions in the state to contest their regional tournament on different dates, which is the situation Urbana was facing as the only Frederick County school in what otherwise was a Montgomery County region.

Weiss said he was going to push for all regional tournaments to be played on the same dates, potentially beginning as soon as next year.

"We didn't want to do that," Kendro said of canceling the county tournament. "The weather got us this year. The new regional format made it more difficult as well."

In between the rain drops on Thursday and Friday, FCPS completed 37 of the 60 matches that were scheduled to be played, according to Weiss. Saturday's session was called off early in the morning due to rain.

School proms also factored into the scheduling decisions, as some matches were delayed due to players attending their respective dances.

Middletown tennis coach Patrick Barber, who was "not happy at all" about the decision to call off the tournament, said FCPS should have been more proactive in getting more matches played earlier in the week with the proms and a gloomy weekend forecast looming.

Barber said his players were "furious" when he told them the rest of the tournament was called off.

"Last Thursday was beautiful, and we played just one play-in match [for the various brackets]," he said.

Barber also said he was able to secure five indoor courts to play on Monday. But that club had yet to set up an insurance policy with FCPS when it came to the health and safety of the players. So, the tournament could not proceed there.

Logistically, it would have also been a challenge to complete the remaining 23 matches in a timely manner on five courts, even though FCPS had already adjusted the format from best two out of three sets to 10-game pro sets.

"It seems like they are always in a reactive state," Barber said. "If they would have been more proactive, everything would have been done already."

Weather-related interruptions are nothing new for the county tennis tournament. In fact, they seem like an annual occurrence.

Walton said that rain has delayed play for some duration of time, if it didn't wipe out play entirely for a day, in 12 of the last 14 county tournaments. Finals that were scheduled to be played Saturday have often been bumped to Monday.

"Weather is always an issue," he said.

The decision to call off the rest of this year's county tournament abruptly ends the season for the vast majority of players still competing for county titles in second singles and second and third doubles.

Under the revised format, every team in the county gets to send to regionals one player in singles and one doubles team for boys and girls, for a total of six players. Each school can also send one mixed doubles team to regionals, bringing the total number of players to four boys and four girls that will compete per school.

Many players that had their season halted were seniors who had their seasons taken away in 2020 due to the pandemic and then truncated in 2021 as everyone returned to play with shortened spring schedules that started much later than usual.

"I just feel bad for the seniors," Stuart said. "We have kids that work really hard, and then they have their chance to win a county title taken away. I feel bad for all of the kids. But I am really sad for the seniors.

"I don't think there is a single coach out there that didn't want to play. Everyone wanted it for the kids. Everyone wanted to play so they could get that opportunity."

Follow Greg Swatek on Twitter: @greg_swatek