Boys’ tennis has been part of Mt. Hope High School’s athletics program since 1967, when John Partington started the team. After a 46-year run, and with interest in the sport waning, the boys’ tennis team will be “suspended,” said Athletic Director Christy Belisle, to make room for boys’ volleyball, a sport that appeals to a new generation of student athletes.
The decision to suspend the tennis program was not based on the team’s performance, as this year’s squad finished the regular season in second place in Division 3 Central B. Other factors led to the decision, such as interest, the availability of “feeder” programs in lower grades, and because of Title 9, a federal law that mandates an equal number of sports programs for boys and girls. To comply with the law, and after the boys’ volleyball program grew, another boys’ team had to go. Since interest in tennis has been waning, Ms. Belisle decided to pull the program from the Rhode Island Interscholastic League.
“We haven’t had a full roster in five years,” Ms. Belisle said of the boys’ tennis team.
Although this year’s squad had 16 boys, she said there was a boost in signups when it was rumored the program would end. Of those who played, she said, most were inexperienced players and the team was more instructional than competitive. Five of the team members were seniors and have since graduated. When the athletics department held a sports night event at Kickemuit Middle School, where incoming high school freshmen could sign up for fall sports, only one student signed up for boys’ tennis.
“We happen to live in two towns that don’t have a feeder program,” she said.
As an athletic director, Ms. Belisle said, that “isn’t an issue to me per se,” but the goal is to give the school’s athletics programs “visibility” in the state.
The decision on which athletics programs to offer is at the discretion of the athletic director. She said this decision is not permanent.
“We’re not cutting the (boys’ tennis) program forever,” she said.
When a junior varsity boys’ volleyball team was formed at the high school this year, 14 players signed up. Ms. Belisle said that the change may simply be an evolution of interest in sports. Volleyball attracts athletes who are often part of the skateboarding circles and less apt to play in other organized, team sports. With “feeder” programs at Kickemuit Middle School, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel School and the introduction of beach volleyball at the Bristol Town Beach and Sports Complex, she believes it’s worth letting the program develop.
On Monday, June 17, Ms. Belisle shared her plans with the Bristol Warren school district’s budget/facilities subcommittee. At the same meeting, the subcommittee discussed field renovations and whether to consider turf fields versus grass fields. Ms. Belisle offered that with turf fields, the district could start a girls’ field hockey program and satisfy the Title 9 requirement while keeping boys’ tennis intact.
That suggestion, however, went by without comment from committee members.
Those who are interested in continuing to play tennis can do so, said Ms. Belisle, but it would be formed as a club and not as an official Interscholastic League sport.