Missouri Boys High School Season Forges On
Local high school boys’ tennis programs in the Greater St. Louis area will be back in action this spring one year after the COVID-19 pandemic ripped away the 2020 campaign. And the new season may also bring a newfound appreciation among players, coaches and parents alike for the simple opportunity to be participating in prep tennis once again.
That’s the way Kenny Seifert, assistant executive director of the Missouri State High School Activities Association (MSHSAA), saw it play out this past fall when the Missouri high school girls’ tennis campaign took place. Seifert said he’s looking forward to more of the same when the boys’ teams get their turn for tennis starting March 1.
“I’ve always believed you have to look at the silver lining in every cloud,” Seifert said. “If there is one thing we have experienced at the MSHSAA office this year, it’s gone back to that general appreciation of ‘Hey, we’re fortunate to get to do this. Let’s consider ourselves lucky. Let’s be a little kinder. Let’s be a little more respectful. Let’s be a little more appreciative of everybody as they put forth an effort to make these things happen.’ That has been a wonderful, wonderful experience.
“When players step onto the court for their first match this spring, there is just going to be a general appreciation of how much they missed it and how lucky they are. Maybe they just play with a little less stress because they’re enjoying the moment. That’s what we want kids to do — enjoy the experience.”
Like every boys’ tennis team in Illinois, Edwardsville’s season will be shortened compared to typical years and runs later than normal with a projected end date of June 19 (for all Illinois boys’ tennis programs).
David Lipe, Edwardsville High School boys’ and girls’ tennis head coach, will have to wait a little longer to get his season rolling, as well. The Tigers begin practice April 5 and play their season-opening match April 17. With a shorter preseason than normal and critical conference matchups early on the docket, Lipe said his players will have to put in work prior to the season so they show up fit and ready to hit the ground running.
“Just like everybody else, I’m figuring this out as I go,” Lipe said. “I’ve been coaching here since 1994, and every year I learn a little bit more and add it onto what I’ve known previously. This is just a completely different animal. The road ahead is familiar, but it’s also different. It’s just not the same.”
The biggest difference for Lipe so far has been readjusting his team’s regular-season schedule, which he said has gotten, “flipped upside down, shaken up and turned sideways.” Historically, Edwardsville travels to Chicago four times a year and makes trips to Louisville, Chattanooga and Columbia, Mo. This spring, Lipe isn’t sure whether the Tigers will be allowed to even travel beyond their COVID-19 region.
“Scheduling has just become a patchwork of local coaches getting together and doing the best they can to coordinate events in the best interest of kids,” Lipe said. “There is a heightened level of anxiety or anticipation because nobody got to play last year. We’ll all be very grateful to have a season. If we’re unable to travel like we have in the past, so be it. At this point, being able to play would be a really good thing for these kids and a really good thing for our game.”
The Illinois High School Association (IHSA) has yet to determine whether the boys’ tennis campaign will feature a state tournament. Regardless, Lipe used the same word as Seifert — “appreciation” — for the opportunity to simply have a season.
“Everybody suffered last spring by not being able to play,” Lipe said. “Even in our darkest moments this spring, we will find some level of solace in the fact that we’re able to play.”
On the Missouri side, Seifert said the modifications that were instituted for the fall girls’ tennis season will be identical for the boys’ season. The top emphasis is every Missouri high school must abide by their respective local county and health department requirements. Seifert said MSHSAA elected not to draw a statewide line in the sand because all schools would then be forced to follow the guidelines of Missouri’s most restrictive school.
“Our philosophy from day one was knowing that every part of the state is different, why would we hinder someone’s opportunity to participate in one part of the state that has no restrictions just because another part of the state 300 miles away has all kinds of restrictions,” Seifert said. “The reason we’ve never taken a detailed guideline protocol and enforced it across the board for everybody — basically a one-size-fits-all — is we didn’t think one size fitted all.”
Seifert said MSHSAA does have considerations it advised member schools to apply this past fall as well as to enforce this coming spring:
1. Social distance recommendations to be maintained at all times.
2. Avoid using hands to pick up tennis balls; try to use racquet and foot.
3. Avoid handshakes before, during or after contests.
4. Avoid chest bumps or fist bumps, which especially occur in doubles play.
5. Avoid sharing food, drinks or towels.
6. Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at facilities.
The MSHSAA state tournament will take place May 20-22 for individuals and May 28-29 for teams at the Cooper Tennis Complex in Springfield. Seifert said the MSHSAA office kept two key tenets at the forefront of their many meetings and discussions: Doing what they could to keep people as safe as possible while simultaneously giving every student-athlete an opportunity to compete.
“We felt both of those were vitally important to the big picture,” Seifert said. “Yes, we truly are concerned about the safety of everyone in our society. At the same time, we cannot completely stop everything that everyone is doing. Life cannot come to a standstill. We felt there were benefits to young individuals having an opportunity to participate and compete. There are health ramifications that come from not being able to compete and do the things we have a passion to do.
“I know the boys are chomping at the bit and are excited to get back and play. Hopefully we have a wonderful spring from a weather perspective. They can just get out there and play until their heart’s content.”
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