Once a Tennis Parent, Always A Tennis Parent

When describing the Tennis on Campus (TOC) program to outsiders, the narrative often revolves around the students. It is easy to see how the program fits into the busy, social lifestyle of the average college student. However, what’s rarely discussed is the program’s effect on the parents.

Danielle Williams

Throughout the typical four-year stretch, a TOC player might go through some drastic changes in his game. Parents, however, always seem to remain the same. You’ll recognize a veteran tennis parent a mile away. Dad always has the cooler full of water and sports drinks. Mom is following right behind with the grocery bags of bananas and granola bars. Grandma and grandpa are carrying up the rear with the umbrellas and sunscreen. They’re ready for war.

“We come to every tournament,” Leanne Williams said. “We are the snack family. It’s a whole ritual. We go get the snacks the day before. We set an alarm, turn on the GPS, and show up wherever the tournament is that day. It’s awesome.”

At any given event, you will see Leanne and her mother, Yvonne, court-sde cheering daughter and granddaughter Danielle Williams on. Dani plays for the Cal Poly San Luis Obispo club tennis team. The team is very close.

“We are here to support Danielle,” Yvonne said. “But she is playing team tennis now, so we are here to support the whole team.”

While parents often embrace a new team of players to support, ultimately, they come to watch their own children play. It’s one of those things parents cherish in high school, but worry they’ll lose after graduation.

“It’s been a great experience for me,” Carrie Young, mother of twin sisters Robin and Christina, said of the program. “When they were seniors in high school playing in CIF, I thought, ‘Oh, this is it. I am not going to be able to watch them play anymore.’”

That harsh reality never came to fruition, though. The twins chose UC Santa Barbara for school and currently compete as a tenacious doubles duo for the Gaucho Club Tennis team. The school is less than three hours from their Newport Beach home and even now, three years into the program, the Youngs (Mom Carrie, Dad Rob, and family pup Rowdy) rarely miss a match.

“They love to compete and we love to watch them,” Dad, Rob Young, said of the shared experience. “It’s been a great way to watch some really competitive tennis. I brag to my friends about how great this is.”

Julio, Karina, and Cristina Vicente

Heading into college, some students already know what Tennis on Campus is all about. Karina Vicente, a freshman at UC Santa Barbara, is one of those students. Vicente picked up tennis pretty late in the game, at age 12. She was a figure skater as a child and was familiar with competing as a solo athlete. Making the transition to play tennis was an easy one. Karina excelled in the juniors, playing varsity tennis all four years in high school, and captaining her school’s team. She had scholarship offers to play tennis at schools on the East Coast and in the Midwest, but ultimately she wanted the big school atmosphere and she wanted it close to home.

“I already knew about the club team,” Karina said. “I knew it was competitive and I wanted to be a part of that.”

Needless to say, Karina’s parents, Julio and Cristina Vicente, were happy with her decision to stay in Southern California.

“The competition is great. The weather is great. It’s only two and a half hours away from Orange County, so we were elated she chose UCSB,” Julio commented. “Having been a college athlete myself and playing in California, I knew it was going to be the best thing in the world for her.”

Linda and Brennan Graham

However, not all parents are lucky enough to have their children playing college tennis in their backyard. Linda Graham lives in Colorado. Her son, Brennan, is a senior at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. After years of watching Brennan play in the juniors, Linda was left with only an idea of what his college tennis experience was about. So for the 2015 Sectional Championships, she made the trip from Littleton, Colorado to Claremont, California to watch Brennan play in his last sectional matches.

“I miss watching him play tennis,” Linda said. “He coaches in the summer at home and plays here and there, but it’s nothing like this.”

“A lot of people think about this as an intramural sport, but it’s more than that,” Rob Young said of the program. “In a way, it is better than D1 because we get to watch the girls play great doubles teams and the mixed doubles usually turns out to be a nail-biting match.”

One of the biggest draws to the Tennis on Campus program is the fact that it provides serious competition throughout the year, while also allowing time for serious schoolwork. Brennan is studying to be an engineer. Christina and Robin are highly active in their sorority and are officers for their club team. Students always put school before their sport, and parents are always impressed with the results.

“Dani was looking to play on the varsity team, but we met with the coach and the schedule didn’t work out,” Leanne said. “She looked into the club and she is so happy she did it. She can focus on her curriculum and her tennis and it doesn’t seem to have an effect on her grades.”

School will always come first, but it’s hard to ignore how the program affects a student’s social life.

“It gives her yet another community within the university,” Cristina Vicente said. “She loves it.”

The reality is all good things must come to an end, and for parents, it’s an reality they don’t want to face.

“I have a grandson who is just about to go to college, but he does not play tennis,” Yvonne said of Dani’s final two years on the team. “So this is it for us.”

“We won’t know what to do with ourselves when she graduates,” Leanne added.

For those lucky ones like the Vicentes, the adventure has just begun.

“We have always been there to support her in the juniors and we will continue to do so with her in college.”

Others, like the Youngs, choose to sit back and soak it all in.

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Carrie, Robin, Christina, and Rob Young

“We could watch tennis all day,” Carrie said. “We have great stadium chairs. We’ve got sweatshirts and blankets. We could sit right here and watch all day long. And that’s what we do.”

So parents try to enjoy it while they can, because let’s face it most TOC experiences will only last four years- for both the students and the parents.

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