Increasing Class Size
Through a concerted effort, college-age players who used to get lost in the system are now finding a tennis home.
By Casey Angle
Over the past several years, much has been made of the growing number of tennis players who have left the sport. Meanwhile, much work has been done to try and bring these players back, as well as to create new ones.
You are probably well aware of the overall tennis participation numbers. Some are good, while some are not so good. But one success story that is steadily on the rise is that of the college recreational player and the 18- to 24-year-old demographic. Three associations have been working together over the past six years to increase interest and participation in this age group: the USTA, Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) and National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association (NIRSA). All three have brought their different strengths to this partnership, with the main goal of getting the college crowd back on the court.
A quick look at the numbers tells you that many young players have been calling it quits after their high school tennis careers end. There are more than 300,000 high school tennis players in a given year, compared to about 20,000 spots on varsity collegiate rosters. Annually, there could be as many as 280,000 former high school players who may be losing interest in the sport because they can no longer play in fun competition. If this group is ignored, over time the result will be millions of players leaving the game.
Some of the success stories from the USTA-ITA-NIRSA partnership include the development of sectional and national tournaments and the significant jumps in participation at schools from around the country. The key to all this has been bringing organization to something that had lacked this in the past, all the while balancing competition with the fun and social aspects of tennis.
The fifth annual USA Team Tennis National Campus Championships took place in March at the Florida Tennis Center in Daytona Beach. This co-ed event is the national championship for club and intramural teams and exemplifies the steady growth of recreational tennis at the campus level. Participation at this event has grown from 10 teams from 10 schools at the inaugural tournament in 2000 to a record 40 teams from 33 schools in 2004. The success from this national event has led to USTA sections beginning to administer sectional championships. The Southern California, Northern California and Midwest sections held events in 2003-04 and more are scheduled for this upcoming academic year.
Coinciding with the growth of the USA Team Tennis National Campus Championships has been the growth of club and intramural programs. Penn State, Texas A&M, Florida, Central Florida and UCLA all participated in Daytona Beach and have all had non-varsity participation jump to well over 100 active players in recent years.
Students like Justin DePietropaolo of Penn State and Brent Boostrom at Central Florida can be considered poster boys for recreational tennis on college campuses. Thanks to DePietropaolo, Penn State’s club grew from 30 members to more than 150 in just a two-year span and was actually named USTA Middle States Organization of the Year for 2003. Boostrom led the way in UCF intramural tennis, growing from 50 to 250 players in less than a year.
According to recent studies, tennis participation for the 18-to-24 age group, after several years in decline, has begun to show signs of stabilizing over the past couple of years. However, according to the TIA’s latest numbers, this group currently makes up just 7 percent of tennis players in this country. The USTA-ITA-NIRSA partnership is looking to not just curb the decline in participation for this demographic, but to increase it through an organized and dynamic approach.
When interest and participation rises at this key level, everyone in the tennis industry wins. From the clubs these players will become members at, to the varsity teams these players will fill the stands for, to the USTA sections they will become volunteers in, and to the equipment manufacturers they will buy from.
Of course, the players themselves serve to benefit the most, continuing to play the game they love.
See all articles by Casey Angle
About the Author
Casey Angle has served as director of communications for the Intercollegiate Tennis Association since 1997. As the governing body of collegiate tennis, the ITA promotes both the athletic and academic achievements of the collegiate tennis community. The ITA, which is based in Skillman, N.J., administers annually a number of national and regional championship events, the ITA Collegiate Summer Circuit, presented by the USTA, and the ITA Rankings for men's and women's tennis at the NCAA Divisions I, II and III, NAIA and Junior College levels. The ITA also has a comprehensive awards program for players and coaches to honor excellence in academics, leadership and sportsmanship. The official ITA website is itatennis.com.