Interest remains high at Tamaqua
Tamaqua head coach Jennel Yelito, left, watches as one of her players, Nicole Mateyak, returns a shot during practice. The Lady Raiders continue to have a strong program as 19 players are members of this year's team. Bob Ford/TIMES NEWS
Across the state of Pennsylvania, there are cuts being made to school districts due to the lack of educational funding and it is affecting everyone.
The student-athletes in schools are seeing their sports' budgets being cut and in the most drastic of measures, seeing their sports being dropped completely. One particular program that seems to have survived these recent cutbacks is the Tamaqua girls' tennis team, and in fact, it's even going in the opposite direction as the program seems to be thriving.
While the budget cuts are detracting interest in the eyes of some athletes in the secondary schooling systems, the Lady Raiders have 19 girls out for this Fall's team and are more than excited to start the season.
"There may have been a year or two where we had more than this amount out for the team," said Tamaqua head tennis coach Jennel Yelito. "But this type of following is typical. We have a pretty big following for the tennis team."
Whether girls see the team practicing on the courts on the Tamaqua campus and that spikes their interest, or they have relatives on the team that speak of the excitement from the sport, the numbers never seem to dwindle as the years pass by.
As Yelito's 2012 girls' team begins, she faces the daunting task of coaching both a varsity and JV team in a program featuring 19 participants (seven seniors, two juniors, five sophomores and five freshmen).
"I don't think that they do anything with tennis in middle school," Yelito claims. "So, I think it is word of mouth, or they see us playing on the courts. They see we've been somewhat successful over the years, or they may have brothers or sisters on the team. Either way, they have an interest to be on the team and with the sport remaining in existence, they see the opportunity to play a sport and they want to do it."
Rumors project that the cheerleading program, along with the boys' golf and tennis teams are cut from the budget this year, leading to less options for the student-athletes to choose from. However, that doesn't seem to have any factor in the amount of enthusiasm shown in the pre-season for the Lady Raider tennis team.
"All the freshmen are new to the program and the sophomores are getting further into the program this season," the fourth-year coach said. "I don't have an assistant coach this year and I don't make cuts from the team, because I want everyone that comes out for the team to have a chance to learn the sport."
Yelito recalls a personal experience as a player at Tamaqua and draws from it to motivate herself as a coach of a largely-drawing sport.
"As a player, I came out for the team as a sophomore," Yelito remembers. "I know I came into it without much experience either and I want to see what happened for me, happen for these girls, as well. There is a program through the USTA that is for high school tennis teams to join. The program encourages teams to not cut and promotes learning in the early stages of the sport by giving programs different drills for beginners and other opportunities like that."
From top to bottom, Yelito plans on coaching this season with the same successful attitude as in years past, already setting goals to surpass the 2011 Lady Raider team that lost in the first round of team districts.
"We want to try and beat our record from a year ago, when we finished the regular season with a .500 record (8-8)," she said. "There are also some new teams added to our schedule, so we are curious to see how we do against those new opponents, and hopefully, we go into those matches with confidence. We just want to keep improving with each passing day and hopefully, the season will benefit us down the road."
With guidance and leadership like that in the Tamaqua tennis system, look for the winning tradition to continue and the girls' tennis team to be around for a while to come.