published Friday, April 12th, 2013

Prep tennis off campus, largely

Because his Dalton High School tennis team practices every day on the windy courts at the school, coach David Hilley knows the Catamounts have at least one advantage when they play home matches.

It's an advantage not many other high schools have.

Out of 44-tennis playing schools in the Times Free Press coverage area, less than 40 percent have on-campus tennis facilities. Fewer than 10 public schools are included in that percentage, which was bumped up this year when Collegedale Academy unveiled its new six-court facility.

"Our program's focus is a lot different than a lot of other schools in that we focus on lifelong activities such as cross country, golf and tennis," Collegedale tennis coach Matt Nafie said. "In my mind, it is best if the facility is at the school. It could really help get more players involved if they have more accessibility."

There hasn't been a direct correlation between having facilities and success on the court. In recent years, Arts & Sciences and Cleveland -- public schools without courts on campus -- have had teams advance to state tournaments. Notre Dame, which plays at the Champions Club, won a girls' state title last season.

Having to split court time with other schools also becomes a problem. The Brainerd and Lakeside public courts, Champions Club, Rivermont Park and Middle Valley get exhaustive use by multiple schools -- some that have to drive 15-20 minutes to get to their "home" matches. Nafie said there were times when the Collegedale teams drove farther to their home matches at Standifer Gap Park and Chattanooga State than they did to some of their away matches.

Private schools such as Baylor and GPS have indoor courts among their facilities, while McCallie is building a new facility that will open in a few weeks.

"If you do have courts, there is an advantage," Hilley said. "I know coaches that have the hardest time getting courts to play matches -- much less practice. We're lucky that we can go outside and have a practice, and because of that we feel comfortable when we're there because we know things about the court that our opponents might not know."

The fact that Chattanooga has no fewer than five places to play inside is a luxury very few other areas have. In addition to Baylor, GPS and McCallie, the Racquet Club -- where Hixson plays home matches -- and Manker Patten have indoor facilities.

With the sport rarely producing revenue, tennis winds up being the odd man out when schools build new facilities, and at times the last man standing when improvements are made. Multiple schools in the area have on-campus courts that are unusable because they need resurfacing.

In the case of Cleveland High, which plays home matches at Lee University, tennis courts that used to be on campus were torn down in 2001 to build a state-of-the-art wrestling facility.

For most coaches, it would be nice just to have courts on campus.

"You would have to think that a lot of those schools that have facilities would have a slight advantage," said Boyd-Buchanan coach Mikki Brown, whose teams play at the Brainerd courts. "There's just a sense of pride in having a home court. We appreciate having courts to play on, but it just doesn't feel like home to us."

Contact Gene Henley at ghenley@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6311. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.

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