The first two-class boys state tennis tournament was supposed to be a great opportunity for teams like Mitchell High School.
Now, they are just hoping for the opportunity to play this season.
With a meeting of the South High School Activities Association Board of Directors looming at 11 a.m. on Friday, six Kernel seniors -- Ryan Bergeson, Kade Clark, Kaden Jerke, Casey Miller, Colby Oetken and Max Tupper -- are hoping a semblance of their final high school tennis season can be salvaged amid the coronavirus outbreak.
“It’s disappointing no matter what,” MHS head coach Pat Moller said. “I don’t think it’s any more disappointing if we have one or two classes. We’ve got six seniors that worked hard in the offseason to put themselves in a position to be successful. I honestly thought we were going to be one of the better teams in either class.”
Moller believes an abbreviated season could be held if school were to resume by the beginning of May, but fear of the season being canceled all together has increasingly grown, particularly after Governor Kristi Noem directed schools to close through May 1.
If the SDHSAA does rule to cancel the season, it would end the 2020 tennis campaign before it began. Mitchell was scheduled to begin practice on March 16, but when spring sports were halted, the Kernels never had a chance to meet as a team.
While Mitchell’s six seniors would not get a proper ending to their careers, 30 more middle school players -- including 15-20 players that had never played tennis before -- would miss the beginning of their careers. If those players did not compete this season, Moller fears that many may not return to the team in the future.
“You try to instill a passion for the sport and hope they fall in love with it and a lot of times they do,” Moller said. “That’s how we built this program. I hope there is not a gap in talent because of this.”
It is impossible to know what impacts the cancellation of an entire season would have on programs in the future, but Moller acknowledges that it would be necessary to be proactive with events during the summer to encourage kids to come out for the tennis team next spring.
“We’re going to have to make an effort to engage a lot of these in some tennis activities during the summer,” Moller said. “We’ve done that every year, but it’s going to be more difficult to encourage them to participate because they haven’t developed the core skills to find success. The kids that have played before have that, but I’m worried about the ones who were just trying it.”
Regardless of the ultimate ruling by the SDHSAA, Moller said a season-ending ceremony should be in the works. Typically, the Kernels would hold a banquet, but if no matches are played, Moller would like to come up with an event during the summer to honor his players.
“Maybe an intersquad tournament -- if we’re able to get together at the end of the year -- something to celebrate these kids,” Moller said. “I would hope that we could do something like that, but it’s all uncharted territory. We’re just kind of making this up as we go and the sad part is that we don’t know what’s going to happen.”