Gering to receive tennis team
     2011-11-24      By Lauren Smith-Kuckkahn   
Tennis is Gering schools’ newest sport, a big step forward for Gering student athletes and community members who have long advocated for the sport to be added as a school extracurricular activity.

The motion to approve tennis as an extracurricular activity was unanimously passed at the Monday night Gering Public Schools Board of Education meeting. Gering tennis supporters gathered at the meeting celebrated their victory with excited applause.

The idea for an official tennis team is rooted in a community youth tennis team that started a decade ago.

Matt Palomo, owner of Matt’s Lawn Service in Gering, is the organizer and coach for the community youth tennis team. He said he formed the group nine years ago to keep students busy during the summer, to give them something positive to focus on and pour their energy into until the school year began.

“Twice a week they have to show up, they have to play, [and] they have to show accountability,” Palomo said.

The team is expected to show community pride also, which gave the student players a sense that they were Gering’s unofficial tennis team.

“These kids work very hard, and even though it isn’t an official sport, they still feel that they represent Gering,” said Melody Russell, junior high math teacher.

Palomo said students in past years who wanted to pursue high school tennis so they could apply for scholarships and play college tennis would often ask him for advice. Because tennis was not a Gering schools’ sport, they would often ask whether they should transfer to Scottsbluff to pursue this goal. Palomo said he would tell them that it was a decision between them and their parents, since there was no other alternative.

During board discussion, board member Mary Winn said she supports the idea because she knows that tennis is “a life sport,” in contrast with many other school sports. She expressed concern that the district may not have the budget to justify adding another sport to its extracurricular list, however.

Activities Director Dave Pauli said according to his estimates, the tennis team could be accommodated in the district budget.

The cost analysis, based on Scottsbluff’s tennis team expenditures, showed that a tennis team would cost between $14,000 and $19,000 per year, which includes a coach’s salary.

“As our business manager said, if I can’t find $15,000 in a $20 million budget, then I’m not doing my job,” said Alan Doll, board secretary.

According to the proposal submitted by Pauli, students would be required to provide their own racquets, and the tennis balls would be supplied by the school or a tennis booster club. A Tennis Booster Club would be formed to fundraise and support the tennis team activities.

B.J. Peters, vice president of the board, said when a similar proposal for a tennis team was submitted in 2010, he objected to it because he thought the district might be facing $1 million in state budget cuts. Now that he’s no longer concerned over that, he fully supports adding tennis as a school sport, he said.

Superintendent Don Hague said if it were not for the fact that the district already owns four tennis courts, his position would be completely different. Since the district will not have to budget to build tennis courts, he supports having tennis as a school sport, he said.

The district tennis courts, located by Gering High School, were recently resurfaced with help from the City of Gering, which used keno funds to help pay for the resurfacing. New lighting was installed around the school courts in the spring of 2010. According to Pauli’s proposal, the two tennis courts at Oregon Trail Park were also recently resurfaced and are available for practice. Other local tennis courts listed included two tennis courts in Scottsbluff’s Westmoor Park and four tennis courts at the Scotts Bluff Country Club, all potentially available for student practice.
At least 36 students expressed interest in participating in tennis as an extracurricular activity in the coming year.

The board said that the district cannot guarantee the tennis coach position to Palomo, indicating that there was a protocol that they had to follow in the hiring process. Despite this cautioning statement, a few board members agreed that it is a good possibility that Palomo will be hired as the tennis coach.

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