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Tennis team smiles for the camera

“We Have a Tennis Team?”

Tennis is an often under-rated sport at Nutley High School. It doesn't receive the same fanfare that other sports like football, baseball and softball often do. Allie Protter, the Nutley High School tennis team captain, and Valerie Martin, the NHS tennis team coach, shared their thoughts about the NHS tennis team with the Maroon & Gray. 


Protter believes that tennis is an underrated sport within the high school which is unfortunate, "because it’s such a beautiful sport.” Martin also feels the same way, stating that, “many people don’t give tennis the credit that is due.” 


Protter started playing tennis in the eighth grade and instantly grew a deep passion for the sport. “Tennis is an outlet,” Protter says. “ It is a very individual sport that requires a lot of focus. You can’t rely on other players like other sports normally do.” 


Mrs. Martin has “played tennis for over 40 years and both of [her] boys, who are now in their 30’s, have played since they were toddlers.” In fact, her husband was, “a teaching pro in California before we met and so it’s all in the family.” Her sons are her own assistants as well, one for each season. “I draw from mine and my family’s experience to motivate the athletes, they see us play and be passionate about the sport,” Martin continued. 


Martin defines tennis as, “the type of sport that you can’t substitute positions in different matches.” She just finished her 12th season with the girls and the 11th with the boys varsity here at NHS. Unlike most other sports, there is an “individual aspect” to it as well. Mrs. Martin explains, “you are out there by yourself, one-on-one and also calling your own lines which can be trying in itself.” 


Allie agrees, defining the sport by one word- “difficult.” She continues, “People assume tennis is so easy, but in reality, compared to other sports, it can’t be picked up as quickly.” 


“It’s sad our school doesn’t excel as much in tennis [compared to other sports],” Allie says, “or at least acknowledge its existence.” Along with Coach Martin, Allie feels that tennis is an underrated sport.“ We have matches everyday in the heat or cold and we rarely really practice. And when we do, we practice for about two and a half hours.” 


Coach Martin is always motivating her team players after each match, “win or lose.” “The element of athlete that comes out for tennis is usually focused and disciplined and even if they are not, we, as coaches, try to instill that in them by our interaction with them,” Martin continues. 


Tennis is a sport where one is required to play often, take lessons, and attend clinics in order to improve their skills. This makes coaching new players or inconsistent players much harder for Mrs. Martin. “Most players come with no prior skills or knowledge of the sport. It is difficult, but very rewarding to teach them the basics,” she says. “It makes our job as coaches more difficult with only a short time to practice before the season.”


Moreover, the team has had more losses than wins this year, but the girls have learned a lot through their practices and will be back next year to face more competitive components. “That’s the key, having them come back each year and keeping them happy,  disciplined and motivated,” Mrs. Martin says. Allie agrees, “We may have more struggles than successes, but we have really improved a lot in the end.”


Many people underestimate tennis but Coach Martin clarifies how intense the actual sport is stating that it requires the players to “be physically fit to play in the heat, the cold, and the wind. All are factors when you are out there for possible one to three hours with very short breaks and it can be a grueling sport at times. Many don’t see it that way.” Allie agrees, “It is an intense sport and is very challenging. It saddens me to see that not everyone can see that.” 


This year, the NHS tennis team consisted of ten JV girls that had no prior knowledge or skills, yet they played against the top JV team in the league- many of whom have been playing most of their lives. “Mentally you have to be tough to get through a really tough match, and when you are in a division where you are facing state championship players, sometimes you can’t even warm up with them, and again, you are out there alone,” Mrs. Martin argues. 


Similarly, Allie says, “It’s a very mental sport, so if you are not mentally prepared that day or you have a lack of focus, there’s no way you can pull through a game.”


There’s no better way to describe tennis than the way Mrs. Martin does. It is "unlike many other sports, one for life.”