New middle school tennis program has Falls' players believing they can compete again
Tischer used grants to get it going
If you have the courts why not use them?
That was the philosophical question that bothered Menomonee Falls' boys tennis coach J.J. Tischer a few years ago when he thought about the lack of a feeder program for the high school every time he went to work at North Middle School and looked at the six courts right across the street at Village Park.
"I would think about it all the time," the sixth-year coach said, "and at the time all they offered was track and that was only to seventh- and eighth-graders. I figured not everyone could be going out for track, not everyone is a track star."
Tischer figured there had to be some tennis players out there.
And he was right.
A few years ago, Tischer was at a meet in Wauwatosa and spoke to the Tosa West coach. That coach told Tischer that he should think about bringing Falls into the 12-school middle school league that had just formed in the area the year before.
District funds weren't available for the start of a middle school tennis program at North four years ago, but the idea stayed in Tischer's mind. Then last year, that low-burning candle of a thought burst into a full-blown flame in his head. He found out about grants from the United States Tennis Association and from the Wisconsin Tennis Association for start-up middle school programs.
With the help of new Falls Athletic Director Ryan Anderson, he got help writing the grants and lo and behold, both were accepted last year.
"It was amazing to see those checks," Tischer said.
And with the North courts just sitting there waiting to be used, the kids did come. Last spring, a total of 75 sixth- through eighth-graders competed and another 65 came out this time around despite the lousy weather.
More help in second year
Furthermore, more is getting done with the program this year. That first year, Tischer had to hustle out for about 45 minutes of teaching these kids himself before he had to run over to the high school for work with the boys high school team.
Now this year, with some funding available from the district, Tischer has three coaches helping him out with an 'A' team and two 'B' teams being fielded. The interesting thing about the middle school league is that it is co-ed. Boys and girls can face each other across the net in singles matches, or play together as a mixed doubles team. The Falls athletes play against competitors from Whitefish Bay, Wauwatosa, Brown Deer, Brookfield and other communities.
What Tischer is most pleased about, aside from the numbers, is the amount of teaching that goes on during the approximately seven-week season (which concludes at the end of May).
North Principal Lynn Grimm, a former tennis player herself in high school who came out and hit a few balls with the kids last year, is very enthusiastic about the program.
"I'm just thrilled that J.J. went out and secured these grants," she said. "... I have nothing but positive things to say about J.J. or the program. It's just a wonderful sport to get involved with."
Paying dividends in high school
And there are added benefits for Tischer the Falls varsity coach.
"At (high) school for so long, we found ourselves having to teach so much basic stuff at the freshmen level," Tischer said. "Now we don't have to do that anymore. The kids will come in with that information already in hand. When they come in now, we can do more advanced stuff."
Tischer is not fooling himself. He knows that this program will not help him beat the empires of the tennis world out there like Marquette, the Brookfields or Homestead anytime soon, but it will help the Indians become more competitive with them, and it will help Falls get back to a strong mid-level standing like it had about four years ago, and which the fine Germantown team is enjoying right now.
"We know something dramatic would have to happen in order for us to get there, but this certainly does help a great deal," he said. "... It's wonderful to see all the young student-athletes on the tennis courts."
Indeed, as Tischer figures that between the boys and girls high school teams and now this middle school program, there are approximately 160 student-athletes out for the sport right now.
At the middle school alone (which houses about 1,000 students), he figures he has about 8 percent of the student population out, and he knows that that fact alone is a great measure of success.
Because like almost any tennis coach worth his or her salt, Tischer tries to teach the fact that this is a life-long sport, something people of reasonably good health can play well into their old age (his father is still very competitive in his 60s, Tischer noted).
"No matter how much success we have at all the levels, I just think it is so cool that we have so many students in our great village out for tennis," he said. "I just think that this a great opportunity for our kids."
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