Penn Hills girls tennis team hold tight to its rackets

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The tennis courts at Penn Hills High School were long gone, replaced by a parking lot in the 1990s.

In 2013, the boys tennis team struggled to come up with enough players and had to forfeit some matches.

A few months ago, the athletic committee met to explore ending the program, but no one showed up.

Last month, the school board considered not rehiring the tennis coach. No coach, no team, no game, as if nobody cared.

On Monday night, two members of the girls tennis team stepped up to ask the school board not to take their tennis rackets away. They battled like Serena Williams at the Wimbledon to save the program they love.

“I’d like to ask the board not to eliminate the tennis program,” Kristen Lubawski, a rising senior, appealed to the school board. “You might have heard that the team has forfeited some matches, but that was the boys team. The girls team always has enough players. You are only allowed to have seven players at matches, and there are 13 on the girls team. We always have enough.”

“We look forward to playing tennis everyday. We are like a family,” added LaNita Maxwell, another member of the team.

Ms. Lubawski told the board that the team travels to Boyce Park to practice, riding the same bus as the cross country team, so there is no transportation cost. While there is a cost to rent the courts, which is $35 per day, and the cost of tennis balls, tennis is not a budget buster compared to many other sports.

Tennis coach Jack Kowalski came to support his players, telling the board members that he would send back the new uniforms and they would wear the old ones to save money.

“All you have to buy is tennis balls. It would be a great dishonor to these girls to end the tennis program. There’s not a high school I know of that doesn’t have a tennis team,” he said. “This is a game you can play all of your life. I know guys in their 80s who still play tennis, but I don’t know a single 80-year old who plays football.”

Mr. Kowalski said the United States Tennis Association offers grants and may be a source of funding for the renovation of old courts at Linton Middle school.

Several school board members appeared to be confused about whether the team had sufficient participation, based on the athletic committee’‍s recommendation and other information that had been provided. Mr. Kowalski explained that some of the boys players were suspended due to poor academic performance and the team did forfeit some matches. The girls team, however, was fully loaded.

“Would it be an issue with Title IX to just have a girls team?” asked board member Heather Hoolahan, referring to the federal law that requires equal opportunity to any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance. “If we eliminate the boys team, then a boy who wants to play tennis could play for the girls team. You have to provide that opportunity and there are cases out there where this has happened.”

But, according to solicitor Craig Alexander, the school district cannot eliminate the boys team without eliminating the girls team.

While the board voted not to renew the supplemental contract for the tennis coach, several board members made it clear they want to revisit the issue..

In other business:

Directors approved the purchase of equipment to support the district’s computer network capabilities. Based upon the recommendation of the curriculum committee, manager of technology and superintendent, the board approved the purchase of an HP/Blade server environment from MCPc of Pittsburgh at a cost of $60,212.

The school board also approved the purchase of VEEAM backup software solution at a cost of $22,515. Also on the high tech equipment list was an uninterruptible power supply and a cooling fan for the server room at Linton Middle school, from Emerson Network Power of Westerville, Ohio, for $4,805.

■ The Allegheny Intermediate Unit will run the PRE-K Counts program in the new Penn Hills Elementary School next year. The school board approved a lease agreement with AIU to rent a classroom at the elementary school for the program. The cost of the lease is $4,800 per year.

Tim Means, freelance writer:

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