Changes to Chamblee’s Upcoming Tennis Season Cause a Racket

Lucy Samuels, Staff Writer

Editor’s Note: For anyone interested in joining Chamblee’s Tennis Team, text @38becf to 81010 to join a Remind thread for further updates.

With the majority of fall sports carrying on regular practices and games, the season for spring sports lingers just around the corner. Tennis, being one of these sports, has recently undergone a significant change in leadership. History teacher Jennifer Tinnell, who coached cross country in the fall, has been appointed head coach this year: she has experience in not just athletics but also organizing a team during a pandemic—with safety in mind. 

Tinnell has coached cross country for six years. Previously, she would help drill the tennis team when needed, solidifying her replacement for previous head coach Larisa Tulchinsky, who left Chamblee at the conclusion of the 2019-20 school year. This year, Tinnell hopes to emphasize conditioning in preparation for try-out requirements and practice in general.

“The conditioning aspect of being a member of the tennis team will be more important to me. I think that can also be a significant game-changer in the outcome of a match. There is a certain amount of conditioning that I think is a valid expectation, so that will be a little bit different,” she said. “Getting in shape will be very important for the kids. That’s what they can do on their own and that’s what I can provide instruction for with this virtual coaching situation.”

With Tinnell already leading the cross country team, she aims to incorporate more running into the program. The Chamblee Tennis Team has already been decorated with multiple wins, with the girls’ varsity team winning state championships the past three years, and the boys winning state just last year. Under Tinnell’s conditioning regimen, which prepares players for the January 19 tryouts, players like junior Sam Sherman have already started getting in shape: recently, Sherman posted on Instagram with the caption, “Went on a mile run this morning around the lake.”

Captain Lila David, a senior, has been on the varsity team since freshman year. She maintains that the change of pace this year has played a substantial role in preparing players for the upcoming season.

“It’s really different. Also, since [Coach Tinnell] has been the cross country coach, now she’s encouraging more conditioning,” said David. “Even just two days after the interest meeting, she’s telling us to go on a run. Talking with her so far, she’s been making sure that whoever’s on the team needs to be there, […] but I think it’s a good and refreshing thing for the team to have.”

Unfortunately due to COVID-19, there is a chance the junior varsity team will not play this year, meaning cuts are likely to be less lenient in order to keep the team smaller and safer. Nevertheless, Tinnell still strives for teamwork.

“One thing that is very important to me is that we are a team. We are hopeful to have varsity and JV, and if we are unable to have a JV roster, we’re still all the same team,” said Tinnell. “We play different matches, but as far as team camaraderie [goes], that’s all very important to me.”

Students have similar opinions. Boys’ captain Victor Lim, a senior, is ready to cheer on his team—COVID-19 or otherwise. 

“I think I’ll be contributing to the team more support wise. I’ll definitely be coming to other teammates’ matches, and it’s the job of the captain to support the team,” he said. “I know right now, we’re still unsure if we’re going to have a JV team. We know we’re going to have a varsity team, and we’re going to try and extend that and make it as many people as possible. In terms of how many people are on the team, the more the merrier. It’s pretty much up to the county and what they think is a safe number of people on the team.”

DeKalb County, in its efforts to keep school sports safe, has held teams back from practice. 

“We would have already started if we were able to be at school. We’d already be doing some conditioning together… and have some pretty slim-hitting practices together. Because of DeKalb county, we aren’t allowed to start [practice] until, maybe, January,” said Tinnell

Whereas tennis matches would usually be starting in January, Tinnell would rather the team started already with practices and team conditioning. But with COVID-19, the team is not allowed to defy county-mandated deadlines. 

“Socially-distanced tennis should be one of the sports that is the easiest to resume, but DeKalb County can’t do that. They are having to issue a one-size-fits-all type of criteria,” said Tinnell. “You can’t let tennis and golf have teams but not let track and soccer and baseball. It’s about safety, but it’s also about equity, and things have to be more on a level playing field as far as what the county will allow athletics to do.”

In Tinnell’s eyes, not starting until January is a setback in her plans for growing the team and optimizing every athlete. 

“I would be seeing more of the talent level of the kids if we were not in this situation. My lack of exposure to the kids who are interested is going to be different. I know some of the kids from last year, but I haven’t been able to see a lot of the talent or experience,” said Tinnell.

Instead, this year will be more focused on the players who stand out from the others, skill and leadership wise. 

“The tennis program, in my opinion, is not intended to be a program where we are teaching tennis. The program is intended to be a program where we are picking out the most talented tennis players [for the] team,” said Tinnell. “I’m not going to be focused on keeping big numbers on the team, but I do want it to grow and mold some tennis players and have them improve, but I predict the team numbers will be a little bit smaller.”

Tinnell finds that it will be even more of a feat to get players back in action because of less training time in general. Brookhaven closed Blackburn’s Universal Tennis Academy facility on March 12, leaving hundreds of players unmotivated and without a place to train. As of now, the park is open back to the public, but the closure still affected players’ practice habits. 

“The pandemic definitely affected my play in general because normally I would be playing with a lot more friends and playing matches and doing summer seasons, but I am definitely not doing that anymore. And also, I’m just in the house a lot more. It takes a lot more motivation for me to think, ‘Oh, I’m going to go play tennis now,’” said David

Despite the challenges the pandemic poses, the captains and Tinnell are still looking forward to making the team just as efficient as in past years, even if it requires additional work. The fact that DeKalb has let Chamblee have a tennis team this year is enough to instill a sense of hope in players.

“I’m not exactly less excited, I’m just trying to see the good in this situation,” said Lim. “There’s still part of me that’s like, ‘Okay, everything will be fine,’ because I know cross country still had their season. And so I think just because Tinnell already went through everything with cross country, I’m confident that this year’s tennis season will be close to normal—whatever normal means this year.”