Joe Dodson, contributing writer
VCU men’s tennis players say they feel pumped and motivated to play for their fans as the team takes on the youth and community through open workouts and T-shirt swapping.
The idea has been a success. Richmond fans swapped old college T-shirts for a new black and gold shirt at events hosted by the tennis team throughout the semester. About 50 shirts have been collected and donated to the Salvation Army. The fans can watch tennis and the players can play in front of a crowd and build a fan base.
People are looking for ways to get out and be around other people, says Rebecca Piner, assistant athletic director of marketing and promotions. It has gained great exposure to our team.
According to coach Anthony Rossi, nearly 50 people attended the first event at the Southampton Recreation Association on September 19. The second event on September 25 at Westwood Club was packed and the third was held at the Avalon Recreation Association on October 19. 2, had nearly 60 guests. Given the small number of people attending men’s competitive matches, Rossi hopes this exposure will lead to a wider fan base.
We have a good team, said Rossi. We are in the top 15 in the country and I don’t think many people know that. We don’t get that many fans at matches and we have quite a crowd at all three clubs so far.
The original plan was for the team to conduct clinics for youth and adult players in the various clubs around Richmond. Because of COVID-19, the team made the decision to instead organize open training sessions, where fans could watch the team play from a distance.
The fact that there are people cheering and looking at us, said senior Inigo Torre Martin. We are more focused and more involved and more motivated.
Martin said he thinks community events will lead to a stronger program in the long run.
We are starting to become known in the community, said Martin. Maybe more people will come and watch us play and of course try to increase the schedule.
The players, like many VCU students, have felt isolated by COVID-19 this fall. Rossi and the team saw the open workouts as a way to change environments.
The fact that we don’t play games and that we’re stuck in a certain way at VCU, Rossi said. It was good for them to play at a different club, learn a bit more about the city and see more people.
While it has been seven months since VCU men’s tennis played a game for the fans, the 6-1 home win against Campbell on March 4 was the last game before the season was canceled, but the team was pleasantly surprised to find a strong tennis community in Richmond .
I am impressed with how much people love tennis here, said Martin. Richmond will always be special to me.
Martin said the players see these outings as a tournament. With no games until spring, Martin said the events are motivating.
It’s a really good idea to change the scenario of where we practice, because we’re pumped, Martin said of playing in a new location. We are more motivated.
Rossi and his squad understand the importance of passing the torch on to the next generation of players. The team were happy to show what they could do for a crowd of youth players.
Even if they aren’t professional, it’s still a good inspiration for the kids, Rossi said. Some of them don’t go to professional tournaments that often or watch tennis on TV that often. Just to see the intensity and see what college tennis is all about is really good.
Once the pandemic subsides, the players look forward to the opportunity to help local youth players with their game.
It’s sad this is happening and we can’t, said Martin of the originally planned clinics. Of course we are role models for little children, and it will be great to give them knowledge that we have learned all our lives.
While the players couldn’t get as hands-on as they wanted, they still hoped they would have an impact on the community.
Tell them and show them this is a game and so much fun, Martin said of the impact he hopes to have on younger players. Maybe one of them can become a college player one day.
This semester VCU Athletics has done several open training courses with T-shirt swaps. The department plans to do more, Piner said, but none have been planned yet.
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