Parents, Players Upset by Plan To Move MCPS Girls Tennis Season From Fall to Spring

Critics of the change predict roster reductions, scheduling conflicts


Via Wikimedia Commons

A move to shift the girls tennis season at Montgomery County public high schools has coaches, students and parents riled up over the potential for cuts to a successful program.

The county school system’s girls tennis program has long played during the fall, even though all other school districts in Maryland hold their seasons during the spring. Montgomery County Public Schools athletic officials say their unique scheduling system opens the program to more players, since the girls and boys—who take the court during the spring—don’t have to compete for practice space.

“We got more rackets in kids’ hands and got more people involved in the sport, and we thought our model was one that other jurisdictions could look at,” said Jeff Sullivan, MCPS athletic director.

But instead, a recent regulatory change is forcing MCPS to fall in line with the rest of the state.

Sullivan said the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association decided school districts must match their sports seasons to the relevant regional and state championships. Since the tennis championships take place in the springtime, the new rule means that only players in springtime tennis programs are eligible to enter the tournaments. 

However, some are imploring MCPS not to switch the schedule and have launched an online petition that says the MPSSAA ruling “appears vindictive” because it only affects MCPS girls tennis.

The petition’s organizers argue that MCPS would have to shrink teams and reduce practice times to accommodate both male and female players during the same season. They point out that the weather is better during the fall, allowing more practices and matches to be held. They also contend that changing the girls season to coincide with the boys season could create scheduling problems for coaches, who might have to choose between conflicting matches and practice times.

Most girls players “do not even participate in the State Tournament, yet these girls and their coaches would be compelled to make major sacrifices for the handful of girls that might,” the petition states.

By Thursday afternoon, the petition had more than 290 signatures.

One petition signer who identified herself as an MCPS tennis player said the program has been a high school highlight for her.

“If tennis was moved to the spring and teams were smaller, girls like myself would be inhibited from participating and would not gain the experience of getting to play a high school sport,” she wrote. “The change would only limit us, instead of encouraging us to be involved and play the sport we are passionate for.”

Sullivan acknowledged that moving the girls season, a change that was deferred to the 2018-19 academic year, will probably decrease the number of tennis participants, especially at schools equipped with four rather than eight courts.

Last year, 369 students played girls tennis in MCPS, yielding an average high school roster size of 14, he said.

While he said MCPS fought the athletic association’s rule change, he acknowledged that Montgomery County was “operating in a gray area” by holding girls tennis in the fall. Members of other school districts believed Montgomery County held an advantage because their girls could play outside the club circuit during the off-season, right before they headed into the regional and state tournaments.

MCPS girls swept the state championship in the 2015-16 school year and clinched the top two spots in the singles competition earlier this year.

Sullivan said athletic leaders from around the school system will begin brainstorming in early July about how to move the girls tennis season with minimal impact to the program.

“We fought against this, but given the fact that this was put into place, we also feel it’s important to work extremely hard to maximize opportunities,” he said.

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