MOUNT VERNON — Saturday’s annual Frank Giampaolo Single Day Showdown tennis tournament, held in the blazing heat at both Memorial Park and Mount Vernon Nazarene University Ramser Courts, turned out to be a bigger hit than expected.
It was a chance for young athletes to get outside and finally test themselves against some live competition.
“One of the big things that is attracting kids right now is that tennis is one of the few sports that is going on due to the COVID-19 situation,” said tournament director Steve Tier. “Even with that, people are still uncomfortable in large gatherings and this is one of the few tournaments that is going on.”
The tournament, now in its third year, is held by the Kokosing Valley Tennis Association and named for the renowned tennis writer, speaker, coach and Mount Vernon High School graduate Giampaolo.
The larger-than-expected number of players suited Kenyon College’s assistant tennis coach and tournament official Alvin Cheng just fine. A tournament like this helps showcase local talent, but it gives Cheng and others a chance to get a close look at the area and regional talent as well.
“A tournament like this helps a lot with recruiting,” said Cheng, “We have 62 players this year. This tournament has really grown up.”
Understated maybe the best way to describe this tournament. It is an entry-level challenge for local and area players, although it also pulls in players from as far away as Columbus, Springfield, Zanesville and up near Lake Erie. It also attracts many players with little or no competitive experience. Even the awards for the winners are low key.
“We do have a way of determining a champion and a finalist, but you don’t see huge trophies over here,” Tier said. “We give them a medal, but we try to downplay that. We tell all participants to please be patient with the other person you’re playing against, because it could be their first tournament.”
The tournament format is set up to make matches timely and allow different players the opportunity to face a variety of competition.
“They play, head-to-head, for 45 minutes,” Tier explained. “It’s not like they play a set. They play 45 minutes and get a 15-minute rest break (before they play the next challenger.) What that does is that it limits the time that they play because one of the worst things is to have players wait around, play one match, lose by a very large margin and go home. Another is to spend the whole weekend playing one match Saturday and two on Sunday. This way, you play all three of your matches on Saturday and you’re done for the day.”
Incoming Mount Vernon High School freshman Quinn Hoffman is 14 years old, but he stepped up and played in the 16 and underclass as well as the 18 and underclass. That’s good practice for someone who wants to challenge for a spot on the Yellow Jackets’ varsity in the upcoming school year.
Hoffman has a competitive experience behind him. He worked with Tier in the fourth and fifth grade, before becoming part of the Mount Vernon Middle School tennis club.
“(The tournament) was really well organized,” Hoffman said. “It also helped match skill level pretty well. The competition I played in the under 16 group were very well balanced to my skill level. We ended up having a lot of deuce points and tie breakers. In my last match at 16 and under, it was 6-7 and I was about to win the point and then we reached the time limit.”
Another Mount Vernon varsity hopeful is senior Jessie Gourley. She and the other contestants explained what it took to get through a tournament with such extreme temperatures.
“A lot of water,” Gourley said. “Also, each year they do the tournament, they give us a little gift, and thankfully this year they gave us a cooling towel. So, my dad soaked it in water and put it in a cooler. That was nice to put on me after getting off the court.”
Mount Vernon Middle School student Cameron Carlson, a 12-year-old, was without competition because no other girls signed up for her age group. Carlson, daughter of Kenyon College head tennis coach Andrew Carlson, decided to step up into the 14 and under category. Even though she has been playing tennis since age four, Saturday was her first time in the competition.
“I was a little nervous at first,” Cameron Carlson said. “Losing was tough. I was nervous, at first, but I got into the grove and I won my last match.”
The tournament was also an opportunity to try out different ideas to keep people safe during the pandemic. Those are rules and protocols that will be practiced during the upcoming high school season. As a bonus, Tier received a $2,000 Grant from the USTA to help Institute a COVID-19 safe environment.
“I’m offering the masks and gloves to the participants,” Tier said. “It’s up to them whether they use them. We have stuff on the courts like hand sanitizer. In fact, each player gets a little gift of hand sanitizer along with a little towel. They also get one can of tennis balls and they put their initials on them and those are the only tennis balls they touch during tournament. At the start of play, each player puts his or her belongings at opposite ends of the net so that is where they go to get their stuff. We also have black and yellow tape on the fence poles and the benches warning the players not to touch them. Also, the gate on the fence is open and locked back so nobody touches them.”
Locally, MVMS student Andrew Conway won the boys 14 group C championship, but lost the final to group D winner Gideon Sullivan of Plain City. In the boys 14 A class, Elijah Nuss from Plain City won. In boys 14 class B, Griffin Houseworth won. In the championship, Nuss won the championship against Houseworth.
In the boys 18 singles, Carter Jones took first place. Francesca Nuss of Columbus won in the girls 18 category. Gabe Fogle from Delaware won the boys 16 singles. Leah Fraker from Springfield won the girls 16 finals. Taylor Errett from New Carlisle won the girls 14 singles.
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