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COLUMN: Tennis politics causing quite a racket

May 10, 2012

If the state tennis tournament bracket gets set up the way it's rumored to be because the reaction of the coaches' association to the addition of Ponaganset's Jared Donaldson, SK's Tim Puterio is going to be robbed of a chance to make the finals.

When the RIIL Boys Tennis Singles Championship Tournament is played next weekend, the winner is going to be Ponaganset’s Jared Donaldson.
If it was up to the egomaniacs – and there are a select few - in the Rhode Island Tennis Coaches’ Association, the freshman wouldn’t be allowed to play.
Last week the majority of the Division I coaches and some from D-II cried foul because they didn’t think it was fair that Donaldson, a home-schooled student who has been registered in the Foster-Glocester Regional School District since the sixth grade, should be allowed to participate in the state tournament despite being declared eligible by the RIIL.
Donaldson is ranked 241st in the world among juniors and spent most of the last year-and-a-half playing and training in Argentina before representing the United States in Mexico as part of the Junior Davis Cup team.
While training in Argentina Donaldson and his family had been in contact with Ponaganset athletic director Tom Marcello and boys tennis coach Jamie LaRose (full disclosure: LaRose, nee Hazard, and I are acquaintances going back to high school; I am an East Providence graduate and she attended Ponaganset with my wife) about coming out for the Chieftains when the Davis Cup was over, which he did.
And then came the D-II seeding meeting last Wednesday, which started an avalanche of idiocy.
With no record in RIIL play, Donaldson should have been and was more than willing to be an unseeded player in the D-II qualifier. Coaches felt this wouldn’t be fair to the seeded players, who’d have a better chance of getting Kate Upton as a prom date than beating Donaldson.
Since the meeting – and Donaldson’s complete dominance of the D-II qualifier, where he won both matches 6-0, 6-0 and reportedly lost five points, all on his own errors – the 15-year old and his team has been the subject of scrutiny because of one reason.
Jealousy.
The brunt of the criticism have come from the Division I coaches. After talking to a variety of sources and witnessing some discussions, the loudest voices of opposition have come from Cumberland’s John Jasionowski, Hendricken’s Michael Haxton, North Kingstown’s Jacques Faulise and Smithfield coach Derek Snow. Snow is the only one who should be loud because his No. 1, Matt Kuhar, won the singles title as a freshman last season.
Reportedly, South Kingstown coach Andy Carr – one of the more reasonable coaches – spoke against the decision, but accepted it for what it was. A phone message left for Carr last Thursday went unreturned.
And in an even bigger embarrassment, South County Tennis Association Director Sandy Sweet emailed a variety of people, including media – the Narragansett Times did not receive the email but spoke with someone who had – that bravely featured anonymous, inaccurate information about Donaldson’s eligibility.
Depending on who you talk to, Donaldson’s shouldn’t be allowed to play because he: a) was recruited by LaRose; b) is playing the tournament because his personal coach has a vendetta against Kuhar and Kuhar’s coach; c) is doing it for the glory; d) has never lived in Glocester; e) never played an RIIL match before the qualifier; f) is too good.
These rumors have spread like wildfire among coaches, athletic directors and already incensed parents about a kid who is, after one high school match, the greatest high school tennis player in the state’s history.
Funny thing is the coaches did this to themselves.
It seems fair anyone trying to qualify for the state tournament should have at least a few RIIL matches on their resume, but that’s never been the case in the past; of course, those players have been JV kids with no shot of winning at the qualifier.
The D-II coaches screwed things up by protecting their own players; Donaldson should have gone to the qualifier as an unseeded player. D-II qualifies eight for the state tourney and eight get seeded in the qualifier; the rest of the draw is blind.
Had Donaldson gone unseeded, he would have crushed one of the seeded players and cost them a state spot; coaches were more concerned about their own player than making the sport seem the least bit fair and Donaldson was seeded No. 1, which opened up a huge can of worms.
With the state tournament coming up next weekend, Donaldson is going to be the first non-Division-I player to win since Warwick Veterans Jeff Cote in 2006 and before him it dates back even further.
The state bracket is usually released days after the qualifier; the inclusion of Donaldson has caused such a problem the RIIL is trying to form a seeding committee for the tournament.
Donaldson shouldn’t be ranked No. 1; the ranking has traditionally gone to the top player in D-I and the top four seeds are generally taken by D-I players, making D-II’s best the No. 5 overall seed.
In that scenario, Donaldson would play Kuhar, the defending state champ in the semis and as you can imagine, this idea did not fly with Kuhar’s parents, coaches or anyone else supporting the talented sophomore. One courageous person anonymously sent emails about the injustice to the RIIL.
So after years of slotting spots, it appears the coaches are going to change it up so Kuhar can be handed, instead of earning, a spot in the final, which is completely unfair to No. 2 and 3 players in D-I, South Kingstown’s Tim Puterio and Hendricken’s Nick Walsh. One of the two will lose to Donaldson and the other will lose to Kuhar unless the bracket is miraculously slotted the same way it has been for the past six years.
Bottom line is, people don’t like the fact that Donaldson is going to put on a display of tennis no one in the state to match, very similar to the show put on by a 14-year old freshman from North Kingstown who took the state by storm with her performances in the pool in 2007.
That was Elizabeth Beisel. She became a hometown hero and the face of Rhode Island girls swim. The swim community embraced her and the sport has thrived since.
Why isn’t this happening here?
Because most of the people against are tennis snobs who love nothing more than to be in control. They all want Donaldson, but if they can’t have him no one can.
It’s sad because this 15-year old is the best thing that’s ever happened to Rhode Island tennis.
Let’s just hope the worst thing about tennis – the adults – don’t ruin it.

Eric Rueb covers sports for SRIN and can be reached at 821-7400, ext. 202 or by email at erueb@ricentral.com

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