AMESBURY — When $1.5 million was cut from the budget of Amesbury High's current school year, it left three sports programs — freshman softball, freshman baseball and tennis — without funding.
But girls tennis coach Brett Manoloff can't worry about that right now, he has a job to do.
"The last thing I want the kids to do is to be concerned about that," Manoloff said of the budget issue. "Let the adults take care of that aspect, and let them play the sport. The general feel is, let's just play tennis."
And thanks to the Amesbury All-Sports Boosters Club, the teams are doing just that after raising the magic number of $24,000 to make things happen. The school has also proposed a budget for the next school year that returns the three programs to the fold. But proposals are proposals, and for now, the Amesbury girls are still on their own.
With the tennis season about to begin, Manoloff knows that all of this needs to remain background music for the players.
"The kids just want the opportunity to play," Manoloff said. "They don't want to have to deal with any of the other stuff, and I like that about them. I think we've done a good job of making sure they understand that they are going to be playing, and they're going to have a sport."
But until the programs are reinstated, keeping the sport alive at AHS requires some forward thinking. Manoloff believes that interfacing more with the community can help. Part of that is fundraising (the program's next fundraiser will be May 19), and part of it is letting people know what a great sport tennis is.
"The big thing we're trying to do this season is just increase awareness about the program," Manoloff said. "Because most of the girls in the program are athletes who have picked up the game of tennis. To their credit, they have become very good at it."
Manoloff would like to expand his sport's profile in the city. There is no shortage of courts in Amesbury, including the beautiful new courts sitting alongside AHS itself, as well as the courts at the middle school.
"A part of this year is to take a greater interest in the youth of this community," Manoloff said. "To get out there during the summer and work with the recreation department in the town that does a great job. I simply want to make a stronger connection between them and the AHS tennis program, so they are not such separate entities.
"I want this program to be professional," Manoloff added. "I want it to be something that our athletes enjoy for four years, preferably, and feel fulfilled in doing. That's my ultimate goal, and if we can get kids at younger ages, it can be good for the program. It can be good for the city and good for the school."
While Manoloff and his team are hopeful the program will be reinstated next year, the coach likes what he's seen from the team over the winter.
"There certainly has been a lot of improvement," Manoloff said of the offseason. "That certainly is a credit to the kids for taking the incentive to do that, so I'm hopeful. It is impossible to make predictions, but I think there is no question that we will be more competitive this year than last year."
Last year's record was 1-16, but it was up from 0-16 the year before.
"Last year, we did double the number of individual matches that we won," Manoloff said. "That was a nice step forward."
Manoloff said he has terrific athletes on his team, and he likes the leadership he's seen.
"This is the third year in a row where I've had just amazing athletes who are professional, fun, hard workers," Manoloff said. "Their captains, Elly Theriault and Morgan Sydlowski, are very good role models."
Theriault herself is ready to let the games begin.
"This year our team is so driven to succeed," Theriault said. "Many of the girls have put a lot of work into their game, and it really shows. It is amazing to look back and realize how much the upperclassmen have grown and improved over the past couple of years, and now as leaders, we are able to help the underclassmen with their development."
Manoloff also stressed that tennis is a unique sport that can be played for a lifetime, something that he'd like to see his athletes do. But for now, the life of the program is still a concern.
"Currently, the budget is being moved forward, and we're simply hopeful that it will come through," Manoloff said. "Ultimately, we need to focus on the work that we are doing right now and improving our game. Hopefully, we'll have a competitive season against very competitive teams in the Cape Ann League."