Rule changes needed in high school tennis

In almost every sport at almost every level, there are individuals who officiate the games, meets and other sporting events. Football, basketball and soccer have referees. Baseball and softball have umpires. Cross country and track have meet officials.

These individuals’ one job: to make objective decisions based on the rules and guidelines set out by the individual leagues or, in the case of high school sports, by the Ohio High School Athletic Association.

Well, somehow the OHSAA missed the memo on tennis, especially during the regular season and the team tournament.

For high school boys and girls tennis, the players are forced to call whether a shot is in or out, and there’s no disputing it. They have to rely on an honor system, hoping that the other player isn’t cheating and that they themselves are making the right calls.

The only other high school sport that has an issue similar to this is golf, but the coaches have managed to alleviate the pressure on the kids. Players pair up with one of their opponents and go out onto the course, keeping score for themselves and their playing partners, just like on the PGA. After each hole, they can check each others’ scorecards, and if there’s a discrepancy, the pair can go through each shot and come to a conclusion. This creates a system of checks and balances, and it avoids most problems involved in using “Scout’s honor” as the way of officiating.

While, for the most part, this seems to work for golf, the system struggles when used for tennis because of judgment calls, which are much more subjective.

In the John F. Kennedy boys tennis match against Beachwood in the Ohio Coaches Tennis Association team tournament district final match on Monday at the Trumbull Country Club in Warren, there was an example that showed the limitation and flaws of this system. Beachwood coach David Cole didn’t appreciate the calls made by a Kennedy player in one of the matches, and let it be known through his reactions to the calls. This is usual for a coach or spectator in any sport, but the coach couldn’t voice his displeasure at an official because the one making the call was a member of the opposing team.

Instead, he proceeded to follow that kid around the court, staring at him and scrutinizing his every decision. This action is not acceptable, especially from a coach.

How can we get rid of such situations? Take the subjective rulings out of the hands of the players, especially in tennis. It’s very difficult for a player to keep an eye on whether a ball is out or not when running back and forth preparing where to aim the next shot.

Getting paid officials may not be a viable option for tennis and the OHSAA – at least not five for a single team match. That being said, the OHSAA, leagues or the OCTA should get a couple of volunteers to adjudicate a couple of matches at one time. Sure, the matches would last much longer in these instances, but that beats what transpired Monday.

The players should focus on playing the game and having fun – not being questioned and harassed by coaches.