Most area teams are enjoying a season largely free of pandemic-related hurdles, with one major exception: a scarcity of tennis balls.
It’s an issue that has plagued coaches and athletic directors since January, when tennis equipment wholesalers began reporting significant shipment delays and dwindling stock.
“We had a meeting of coaches the beginning of February,” Robinson Coach Paul Fisher said. “We were trading: ‘I got some here. I got some there.’ You know, that type of thing. It’s a real pain.”
Fisher said he has been able to scrounge up enough balls by checking local and online retailers, sharing stock information with other coaches and establishing a “lifeline” to trade equipment with programs that have managed to stock up.
But he’s still waiting on a delayed shipment from a warehouse in California, and he’s keeping his fingers crossed it’ll arrive before the playoffs.
Oakton Coach Betsy Tyskowski ran into similar issues and has had to reuse balls more often during practice. But with continued use, tennis balls can handle unexpectedly and lose their bounce.
“I kept hearing the same thing over and over about how we could place the order, but they had no idea when it would be fulfilled,” Tyskowski wrote in an email. “[I was] hoping that the availability and price would be better a couple of months down the road but that hasn’t turned out to be the case either.”
The shortage also has been a hit to athletic department budgets; coaches are finding remaining stocks being sold for as much as double the price compared to last season.
Fisher and Tyskowski say the players haven’t had to make many accommodations so far, but with state championships on the horizon, finding enough balls will continue to be a challenge.
“It’s a lot, a lot of phone calls,” said Fisher, who worked with another local coach to get a few more balls this week. “We made a deal. He gave me two cases, which should get me through this week and next, I think. I’m hoping.”
— Aaron Credeur