Eagle River tennis coach seeking local home for team
Eagle River High School has a Region IV tennis team, but does not have its own court to play on. When it’s time for practice, students pile into a bus and head over to the Begich Middle School in Anchorage. The team also plays at Chugiak, Bartlett, Dimond, West Anchorage, every school in the district, except at Eagle River High.
Aware that the state fiscal crisis is not going to be producing legislative grants anytime soon, Coach Alice Knapp, now in her second year, is hoping that the community and local businesses will financially support four new tennis courts. She envisions the school district could work with Parks & Recreation to secure funding via bonds voted on by the public.
Parks & Recreations maintains two separate courts, at Schroder Park and in the park adjacent to Eagle River Elementary. However, these courts are not a viable option when there are 25 players as it would take six hours for game time, Knapp said. (Four courts are needed to complete all matches within a three-hour window.)
Because no formal talks have been initiated, Parks & Recreation was not aware of Knapp’s proposal.
“This is the first I heard of it,” said Director John Rodda, adding that the subject of tennis has been an informal talking point in the past, and the department, which has a long-standing relationship with the school district, is open to discussions.
Rodda also said that when the subject of tennis previously did come up, he referred to existing courts maintained by the Lions Club.
“Rather than massive new infrastructure,” he asked, “would it be more cost effective to look at the existing footprint and rehabilitate those four courts? It would be less time and less money, be completed faster and be made available for school programs as well as the public. This was applicable then, and even more applicable now with diminishing capital dollars.”
The Lions Club maintains four courts, but with holes in the asphalt surface and grass growing through large cracks, the courts are unusable. Knapp sent a letter to the Lions Club back in October 2015 but has yet to hear back regarding her request to consider resurfacing.
“It is a concern of ours, we do know we need to get it done,” said Lions Club President Bruce Morinitty, when called for comment.
He said the club is not able to pay out of pocket for the resurfacing so grants would be necessary; however the Lions Club is not applying for such grants at this time.
Laying the Groundwork
“If the Lions Club is not going to repair, we would love to host courts,” said Marty Lang, who has been principal of Eagle River High School for six years. “But I don’t think there is municipal interest to bond tennis courts. From a district standpoint, there are more immediate needs in capital improvement plans for buildings with significant deferred maintenance.”
Some facilities, for example, have structural issues due to recent earthquakes, and aging buildings are slated for remodel.
According to Lang, there are two possible locations for new courts, should funding ever be acquired: one, which would require earthwork and estimated to cost $500,000, is at the north end of the school, closest to Yosemite Drive. The other site, on the existing drainage pond, is believed to be less expensive, but estimates have not been confirmed.
“The bottom line is we would love to have tennis courts at some point and will continue to look at opportunities to get project funding,” Lang said.
But with the state’s current fiscal crisis, he added, this may not be a reality in the short term.
Tennis today, tennis tomorrow
“Tennis is a great lifetime sport,” Knapp said, adding that her parents played until their late seventies. “You can learn as a kid, and play for the rest of your life, pretty much. And it’s a great social activity, healthy for youth and healthy for the neighborhood.”
Although the team has grown from 14 members in 2015 to 25 members this year, and parents are excited by the matches and winning 5-4 over East Anchorage on Aug. 31, tennis does not rank that high in popularity among students.
According to an Interscholastic Activity Survey conducted in 2015, tennis was not in the top 10 of favorite sports, either to participate in or watch. A total of 431 students responded, representing 61.6 percent of the enrolled population at Eagle River High School. (45 different sports were available to choose from, as well as the option to select “my choice of sport is not listed” or “I’m not interested in these sports.”)
Knapp said it’s hard to build a team where there is no facility.
Lang explained that the annual survey is a requirement of Title IX. Results are used at the district level to track trends and ensure equal opportunity and access for all groups and genders. Results do not affect decisions regarding existing athletic programs.
In fact, the only time a sports program is eliminated is when enrollment drops below a threshold to justify its existence, he said.
So tennis at Eagle River High will definitely continue, but without a home court advantage.