Tennis club stuck at love

Team forges on despite no tie to Queen’s

Lucas Rivet-Crothers (left) and Marshall Mackoff captain the unofficial tennis squad.
Lucas Rivet-Crothers (left) and Marshall Mackoff captain the unofficial tennis squad.

They’re the Queen’s tennis team, in everything but name.

The school’s unofficial competitive squad is made up of 36 Queen’s students. They play in tournaments and exhibitions against other Ontario teams. They’re captained by two fourth-year students with extensive on-court experience.

Still, tennis isn’t an official Gaels varsity or recreational club. The sport hasn’t been sanctioned at Queen’s since the mid-2000s — and according to Queen’s Athletics, it won’t be for the foreseeable future.

“We’re not allowed to use ‘Queen’s’,” said captain Marshall Mackoff, ArtSci ’14. “We try to keep it all legit. We try to keep things saying ‘Kingston’ so it gives us the chance to play.”

Mackoff and co-captain Lucas Rivet-Crothers have both been involved with Queen’s tennis for the last three years. According to Mackoff, they approached Athletics in 2012 with hopes of gaining rec club status, but had their efforts rebuffed.

“We got a lot of interest, a lot of support, a lot of signatures and emails,” Mackoff said. “When they refused that, it seemed a little bit ridiculous. That pretty much takes us to where we are now.”

In May 2003, the Journal reported that Gaels tennis had its varsity status revoked, allegedly because players missed a scheduled practice session at the courts near the Kingston Airport.

While the competitive team was scrapped, Rivet-Crothers said a group of tennis enthusiasts reunited in 2010, led by former captain Nathan Terrana. When a deal couldn’t be struck with Athletics, they went their own way.

Now, all team members pay full membership fees to the Kingston Tennis Club, located at Earl and Napier Streets. In return, they receive 27 hours of practice time per week, split over three courts and three days.

“That in itself is a good amount of time for the team to practice as a whole and communicate, which is key,” Mackoff said.

This year’s team was selected from a pool of nearly 100 candidates, most of who were cut in September tryouts due to practice time and space limitations.

Those constraints and the lack of an affiliation with Queen’s means the club can’t provide a formal framework for recreational tennis players.

“The only thing we can do is offer them a platform on which they can communicate with other people, and then organize it themselves,” Rivet-Crothers said. “That’s the extent of the recreational part. It died when we weren’t given club status anymore.”

To drum up interest for the competitive team this September, the club squeezed themselves into the Tricolour Open House at the Queen’s Centre, despite not having an official booth in the lobby or the main gym of the ARC.

Instead, the captains sat down across from the DrugSmart Pharmacy, stacking a few tennis racquets on the table in front of them.

Roughly 70 interested students signed up, according to Rivet-Crothers, while the club received 60 more emails afterwards.

The captains said they’ve received mixed messages from Athletics over why tennis isn’t a viable athletic club.

According to Rivet-Crothers, Associate Director of Business Development and Facilities Jeff Downie was initially supportive of a tennis club, but said it couldn’t be sanctioned due to a lack of suitable facilities.

Conversely, Rivet-Crothers said another Athletics official pointed to a lack of interest in tennis among students as the reason it shouldn’t be ratified.

“It’s just stupid — it’s unfounded,” Rivet-Crothers said. “We have [around] 78 people try out every year consistently, without a platform.

“People call the ARC asking for tennis. People go to Clubs Night and ask for tennis,” he added. “It’s a bit of bullshit on their side.”

Even with a potential lack of outdoor facilities, Rivet-Crothers said tennis could be played year-round in the gym at Duncan McArthur Hall.

“There’s a tennis court outline on the gym at West Campus,” he said. “I played six years of my life on a rubber surface, and it was totally fine … Even though it’s [only] one court, it’s still good for us.”

In an interview with the Journal, Downie said Athletics can’t support a tennis club due to a lack of suitable courts on campus.

“We don’t have the facilities here at Queen’s,” Downie said. “There’s really nothing that’s changed from years past here. We certainly would love to be able to support a tennis community, but we don’t have the facilities to do so, unfortunately.”

While there are sets of courts located near Nixon Field and Richardson Stadium, both are unfit for play, and Downie said Athletics isn’t currently planning to refurbish them.

According to Downie, Queen’s best tennis courts were located outdoors on the roof of the old Jock Harty Arena. Those were torn down along with the hockey rink in 2007.

“With those being gone, there are really no other good facilities on this campus, unfortunately,” he said.

Athletics considers a number of criteria when deciding whether to sanction recreational and competitive clubs, according to Downie, including coaching, funding and student interest.

“Tennis, currently, doesn’t score well on some of those, and the leading one is facilities,” he said.

Downie said that because Queen’s doesn’t have suitable courts, Athletics hasn’t sought to evaluate interest in tennis among the student body.

“Are there tennis players in our community? Of course there are — people play every sport in our community,” he said. “It is unfortunate that we can’t meet their needs right now.”

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