Co-op idea could save local tennis

In last week’s Cabinet, Tom King wrote about an idea that could save high school tennis in two of our local schools.

Recently, Milford shut down its boys tennis team because not enough kids were interested. Last year, Wilton-Lyndeborough shut down its boys team for the same reason.

But King spoke with John Kilgore, the coach of the Souhegan High School boys team, which seems to have no problem getting enough players. Kilgore suggested that teams that can’t attract enough interest form co-op teams with other schools, say Wilton-Lyndeborough and Milford, forming a single boys team.

Already in New Hampshire, some schools do that with hockey, so it’s an idea that has proven to work.

In his story – which first appeared in The Telegraph – King raised an interesting point, one that puzzles him and us, to wit:

“It is definitely a head scratcher,” he wrote that neither Milford nor WLC can have enough players for boys tennis, especially when a facility like Hampshire Hills is right nearby.

Hampshire Hills Sports Club in Milford is a hotbed of tennis and not just on the courts, which are almost always full. Walk through its lobby at any time of the day and you can see at least one of the three televisions showing a tennis match from somewhere in the world and there will be people watching.

But those people are not teenagers. Certainly there are teens on the courts but they don’t show the same interest as older folks when it comes to watching.

There was a time when that would have meant little, perhaps only that teens perferred to be out playing tennis rather than watching, but we’re pretty sure that isn’t the case today.

As a somewhat peripheral show of proof, we cite a recent Wall Street Journal article about the decline of golf among younger people. No, golf isn’t tennis, but the idea behind the decline in the former has, we think, some resonance when it comes to tennis.

The Journal found that among those 18-24 years old, the number playing golf declined from 2.6 million in 1995 to 1.8 million in 2015. Among those 25-34, it dropped from 6.1 milllion to 3.3 million. Indeed, it dropped in age groups 35-44 and 45-54, too.

Only in ages 55-64 and 65-74 did the number of people playing golf increase.

“As with other sports, the millennial and younger generations are causing big problems for both viewership and popularity” of golf, wrote Lauren Silva Laughlin.

And the problem, we believe carries over to tennis:

“The trouble isn’t that fewer people are watching, but the attention span of the younger viewer is changing how they consume events … a 2017 study (by the consulting group McKinsey) showed a decline in minutes watched, year over year.”

The problem is basically social media where younger people can check scores and results with a few clicks of their thumbs.

That’s golf, sure, but why should tennis be any different? It takes about three hours to play a round of golf, but a five-set match in tennis can take even longer. If you’re 17 years old, are you going to sit and watch?

And when you don’t watch a sport, your level of interest in playing it would, it seems to us, decline.

So, what to do. Well, it seems that Kilgore’s idea for co-op teams might be the perfect solution. If nothing else, it’s worth exploring. Tennis, unlike football or hockey, doesn’t require brawn. Just look at women’s professional tennis and posit your ability to return a serve from Romania’s Simona Halep who, at 5-foot, 6-inches tall, could probably ace most New Hampshire high school male players.

Saving local tennis would be a boon to kids who aren’t big enough for other sports, and if a co-op is the way to do it, well, to us, that’s game, set, match.