Love all

So my life as a “tennis mom” is coming to an end this season.  As of May 27, I will no longer have a child in our public schools, and thus no longer a sports team member.

I have mixed feelings about this.

In her hysterical blog post, Please Let That Be Rain, Stacy Graebner shares her mind’s wanderings as she valiantly sits through yet ANOTHER sports event for one of her children.  Let’s face it: most all of us have been there in one way or another for someone we love.  Even during the match/game/playoff of the year for a sport we actually enjoy.

Especially for outdoor sports, sports parents are a hardy bunch — but there are limits to our good natures and ability to fight pneumonia after so many cold/wet/windy/sweltering days (sometimes all on the same day) cheering on our kids.  And yes, I have — on occasion — prayed that that really is rain (or at least, lightning, because tennis matches get called off then).

Our school district considers boys’ tennis as *technically* a spring sport.  But all of us tennis parents know better: when the practice season begins the first week in March, and they’re outdoors by the middle of the month, let’s be honest here, it’s still winter in Chicagoland.  We intrepid parents meet up at the first match, bundled up in winter coats, hats, scarves, gloves, and wrapped in our kids’ old “Bob the Builder” and “Blue’s Clues” twin comforters that will live in the backs of our cars through the season.   And the inevitable joke “Who knew tennis was a winter sport?” pops up at least a dozen times.  By the time mid-May rolls around, we are sweltering in the sun, or jockeying for position under the single tree, standard at any school tennis courts, now sitting on those old comforters (tennis garners neither the district’s attention, nor budget, for bleachers).

I admit that my mind has wandered during quite a few matches, and when the temperature is either “freezing” or “sweltering,” and the wind blows perfectly good shots across the adjoining courts, I have been known to go sit in the car and switch on the heat or the air, watching from inside the climate controlled vehicle for at least a little while (usually until I thaw, or my skin stops burning).  Otherwise I’m out there, clapping and cheering for good shots, chatting with other parents, and enjoying my son’s involvement in a great sport.

Although we don’t rate bleachers, we are very fortunate in our school district for a more important reason: tennis is a “no cut” team sport in our conference.  If someone wants to play tennis, they are on the team.  The coach does seed the players, and we have 3 starter singles, and 4 starter doubles teams; thus, 11 “Starters.”  The rest of the players are Exhibition Players, and play after the Starters finish their matches.  The first year, Z played in high school, there were 60 (SIXTY!) boys playing JV and Varsity tennis at our school!  Challenge matches to move up in seeding are held throughout the season, and everyone supports each other.  Always.  Even the opponents.  Yes, players and parents are encouraged to let the “other” team know when we appreciate a play.  Coach makes it very clear every year at the parent meeting in February that this is a Gentleman’s Game (or in the fall, a Ladies’ Game).  This means EVERYONE is expected to adhere to good sportsmanship in every way, on and off the court.  As a result, spectators sit a respectful distance from the courts and no hanging on the fences.  No cheering for a missed shot or serve fault.  Players or parents not adhering to these rules can be ejected by the coach at any time.  And it’s been done.

I’ve watched my son grow in his appreciation of the game over the last eight years, both as a player and as spectator.  His favorite player is Roger Federer, the Swiss sensation still playing and winning at 35 (yes, I’m a fan, too).  It makes me very happy that Z has chosen someone who embodies the ideals of good sportsmanship, generosity on and off the court, and all-around good guy.  I have no doubt that these last four years playing for his high school will leave an indelible mark on his character for the better.  Some of his very best friends are from tennis, and the bonds between any teammates for any sport are as strong for these young men as any I’ve ever witnessed.  They have built something special together, and made their coach proud for many reasons.  As a parent, I love cheering on each of these players, and have become quite proficient at watching up to three different matches at once.

I  wonder how much I’ll miss this.  I love the sport, and the experiences my son and his teammates have been afforded by our school district, the conference, and his coach have been extraordinary.  Z plans to join the intramural or club team away at college — that’s one of the great gifts of tennis: you can take it with you wherever you go, and for as far and as long as you wish.

I won’t miss freezing, sitting in a camp chair, wrapped in one of Z’s old bed comforters; or sweltering under my wide-brimmed straw hat, slathering layer upon layer of sunscreen trying to keep my pale Scandinavian/Scottish/German skin from burning to a crisp in the afternoon sun.  But I will miss seeing him out on the courts every spring with some of his very best friends, playing hard and fast, fists pumping after a good shot, patting the shoulder of a compatriot after a hard-fought — but lost — contest.  I will miss watching his muscles become lean with 2-hour practices every day after school, and seeing his hard work and practice pay off as his “win” column grows in number, hopefully more so than the “loss” column.  I’ll miss the smile on his face and the laughter he and his doubles partner share at an inside joke born of the pure joy in playing the game, and being able to shake off a bad shot or a lost point.  I’ll miss the other parents sitting there with me, shivering or sweating, as we watch our sons put into practice what Coach has instilled from their first meeting: good sportsmanship, and everything that goes with it.

But we still have over half the season ahead of us, and I think I’ll enjoy it as much or more as before.

And because I want Z to enjoy as much tennis as he can before the demands of college take over, and I want to be there to see every last moment possible, I will pray that isn’t rain.

Until next Friday, Friends!