John F. Russell: Steamboat tennis sets great example |

John F. Russell: Steamboat tennis sets great example

There is no question that Ramsey Bernard, crowned Saturday as the state’s top singles player in Class 4A, has secured his place as one of Steamboat Springs High School’s best tennis players.

Before this year’s state tournament, he already had won a state title as a freshman, placed third as a sophomore and second as a junior. He’s been a major part of Steamboat’s success for the past four years, and he leads the team by example.

There is no doubt that coaches John Aragon and Don Toy will miss the prep star next season when the Sailors take the court.

But if you’re a fan of the Sailors tennis program, there is no reason to panic.

The strength of Steamboat Springs High School comes from great coaching, strong local support and a feeder program that has supplied a steady stream of talented players for the past several years.

For those same reasons, other teams on the Western Slope may not be big fans of Steamboat’s program – rumor is that some of those teams would love to see Steamboat moved out of the region so their own programs could garner more state qualifying spots.

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I guess if you can’t beat ’em, simply change the rules.

But Steamboat’s approach to the game has made its program competitive, and if those schools want more players to make it to state, they should have to beat Steamboat on the Western Slope, where the Sailors belong.

The fact is that Steamboat does have one of the best programs on our side of the mountains, and has been competing with schools such as Kent Denver and Cheyenne Mountain for years. Steamboat is still looking for its first team title, but has managed a couple of top-three finishes.

The success of the tennis program starts at the Tennis Center at Steamboat Springs, where young players are introduced to tennis through an inviting youth program.

The program teaches young players to have fun with the game and encourages them to pursue the game at their own pace. Many of the Sailors top players have been, or are, a part of the junior academy.

The secret to the Sailors success is a pretty simple plan, but you might be surprised how many high schools don’t require a feeder program before sanctioning a sport. I’m sad to say there are even a few programs in Steamboat that are lacking the feeder programs that will make them successful for years to come. These programs have struggled to find success on the field, struggled to find steady coaching and struggled to find a steady stream of talented players to fill the lineups.

I’m not saying these programs are bad. I think the high school needs to promote a variety of sports and provide ample, but not unlimited, opportunities for students to find success in whatever sport they choose.

But I also think high school sports have a responsibility to form a framework that gives players a shot at success. That starts with good organization and a strategy that will produce competitive teams for years to come. If you need an example, just look to Sailors tennis.

– To reach John F. Russell call 871-4209

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