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High school boys and girls, as well as coaches, benefit from USTA No-Cut tennis program

February 10, 2016 01:52 PM

By Jonathon Braden, USTA South Carolina

Emily Sawvell might have her best high school tennis season yet this fall. But if her coach had operated differently six years ago, she might have never even played a high school match.

As a seventh grader, Sawvell was one spot from making the Chapin High team during tryouts. But despite Sawvell falling short of the top 20, her coach, J.R. Rodgers, kept her around as a manager and let her practice with the team.

The move has benefited both coach and player. With Sawvell in the lineup for much of the past five seasons, Rodgers has had a stronger team for years. And Sawvell, who plans to play in the top 3 this fall, has found the sport she enjoys the most and can play her entire life.

“I love it so much,” Sawvell said of tennis. “It’s just so much fun, hitting an amazing shot and (thinking), ‘Oh my gosh, where did that even come from?’”

Sawvell, like hundreds of boys and girls in South Carolina, has benefited from the USTA's No-Cut tennis program. For more information on the program, click here.

Hundreds of boys and girls in South Carolina have benefited from the USTA’s No-Cut tennis program, which gives resources to high school coaches to help them let students of all abilities play on the team.

But as Rodgers and many other coaches have learned, running a USTA No-Cut program also benefits coaches.

By keeping everyone on their team, regardless of ability, coaches create a natural feeder program for their varsity squad. Kids who might be No. 21 their seventh grade year improve and become No. 3 their junior year, which is what Sawvell did.

Coaches who run No-Cut programs also provide kids of all socioeconomic levels time to develop their tennis skills and contribute to the school’s program. 

“It’s one of the best things to me,” Rodgers said of the USTA’s No-Cut program, which started in 2006.

Rodgers, who coaches the Chapin boys and girls teams, has practiced the No-Cut philosophy for years. Recently, No-Cut tennis helped him achieved a first, which is rare, considering he’s been coaching high school tennis for 39 years.

Last fall, for the first time, he fielded a junior varsity squad as well as a varsity team because he had 24 girls out for tennis. This spring, he will have junior varsity and varsity teams for the boys as well.

The No-Cut philosophy can help boost smaller programs as well. Gladys Summers coaches the Woodland High girls team in St. George. Her squad had 10 girls a few years ago, and some of the players were new to tennis.

But she didn’t cut any of them, and last fall, her team of 12 girls won Region 5, Class AA.

“You get to build your tennis program,” Summers said. “Even if the girls aren’t where you want them to be, you continue to work with them.”

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Jana Houghton has adopted a similar approach at the Christian Academy of Myrtle Beach. About five years ago during tryouts, one girl, who was new to the sport, tried to serve. But instead of hitting the ball in the box across the court, the girl hit the ball in a box on the court next to hers.

Houghton, though, kept the girl on the team. A few years later, the girl made the top six.

If Houghton would have cut the girl, she said, “I never would have seen her again.”

Running a No-Cut program also can lead to state titles.

During her six seasons of coaching boys and girls tennis at A.C. Flora High in Columbia, Amy Martin has never cut a player. She’s always also had varsity and JV squads.

Last spring, the A.C. Flora boys team won the Class 3A state tennis title. Almost the entire JV team watched the championship match, Martin said, and will likely use it to motivate themselves in the future.

“It’s a no-brainer for me as a varsity coach,” Martin said of No-Cut.

Practical reasons aside, running a No-Cut program also can be more enjoyable for coaches, said Becky Williamson, the former longtime Wando High girls tennis coach.

When Williamson started coaching tennis at Wando, she didn’t run a No-Cut program. She dreaded having to tell teenage girls they didn’t make the high school team. Williamson would quietly email them the news, hoping to avoid confrontation.

When the USTA introduced No-Cut 10 years ago, Williamson said, “It solved our problems.”

She no longer had to cut kids, and soon her program had grown from about 15 to 35. During practices, girls would crowd the courts at Wando High and at neighboring clubs and parks.

“I just hated to cut people,” Williamson said. “I mean if somebody wanted to play, you never know when you’re going to get a little diamond in the rough.”

Sawvell can relate to the feeling those Wando girls had. She said she cried a little after Rodgers told her she didn’t make the team. And had she been cut from the team altogether, she doubts she would have had such an enjoyable high school tennis experience.

“I don’t think I would have done as well,” Sawvell said.

Rodgers, as well as the Midlands tennis community, are glad USTA No-Cut tennis has helped her experience so much success.


- The State newspaper: Hammond's McGuire honored for 'no-cut' policy