HILLARY SMITH: North Newton has tennis bug

2014-05-18T18:00:00Z 2014-05-18T19:27:28Z HILLARY SMITH: North Newton has tennis bugHillary Smith hillary.smith@nwi.com, (219) 933-3233 nwitimes.com

Taylor Watkins will be at Butler University in the fall, studying biology to prepare for a degree in pre med.

By the time she arrives, she'll have accomplished something not many women can say since 1972.

Watkins started a sport.

With the urging of several of her friends – many of whom were also golfers – she approached the school board at North Newton to start a tennis program.

The school has no courts and previously hadn't had the desire.

The board of course had questions, she answered them, and it had more.

"I talked about how it would benefit the athletes and the school system and that it would give girls another opportunity to play sports in the spring," Watkins said. "I went to three of four different school board meetings. They had follow-up questions, and I had to answer them."

Watkins first board meeting was in October. After the sport was approved and the schedule was quickly set – the Greater South Shore Conference was happy to bring in another girls tennis team – the call out for players netted more than expected.

"I’ve got 25 girls on the team," coach Jerry Taylor said. "I'm seeing improvement on all of these girls, and they're all getting a chance to play."

The chances to play aren't easy. All 25 share two courts with time donated by Lake Village, so teaching the fundamentals isn't as simple as it would be if more courts were available. 

That's what the Spartans dream of next. 

"I really hope they get to build courts one day," Watkins said. "There are a few freshmen who are phenomenal. For them to be able to play on courts at the school would be amazing to see."

North Newton will participate in the IHSAA postseason in their first year. The draw is today and the Spartans will play in the Hobart Sectional with matches that begin as early as Wednesday.

By the time Watkins graduates with her medical degree and becomes a pediatrician, there could be courts built and a program with legs at North Newton.

When the Spartans won their first match at Gavit, Watkins had her fingerprints all over it.

She didn't know that the match was sitting at a 2-2 tie when she lost her second set to force a third in singles competition. She didn't know when she won 6-3 to secure the 3-2 victory over the Gladiators what was about to happen.

"It was surreal," Watkins said. "I was the last to finish. If I win, we all win; if I lose, we all lose. I was just bombarded with hugs. It was our first win, it was the program's first win, it was an amazing moment. To go from not even having a team to winning a match that quickly was fantastic."

A week later, the Spartans won their second match – and first in conference competition – beating Calumet.

That's how quickly a spark can turn into a fire: from no team in September to a May sectional draw and the potential for more.

"The kids have put forth all the effort," Taylor said, "and I like that. As it goes on, hopefully they'll put even more into it."

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach her at hillary.smith@nwi.com.

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