ROCKFORD — Auburn has won four consecutive sectional titles in girls tennis and is favored to win an unusually tight and competitive NIC-10 tournament this weekend.
The Knights are depending on senior Amy Park, a three-time sectional champion, Avery Trapp, who won the conference No. 2 singles title as a freshman last year, and juniors Rebecca Wang and Addysen Feng, who each have won a pair of conference doubles titles, to slip past Hononegah, Guilford and Boylan.
Those four also got down on their hands and knees working hard this summer to keep Auburn winning far into the future. The group spearheaded a project to repair the crack-strewn courts at Marshall Middle School, the primary feeder school for Auburn’s tennis programs.
“We saw that the tennis community was dying,” Feng said. “There’s nobody else there. We don’t have enough players, so we tried selfishly to find some more players for Auburn’s team.”
“It all started with Addysen,” Trapp said. “She was inspired by doing Key Club and helping out with the community. She wanted her own personal project.”
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Feng began by asking the Marshall coach if there was anything they could do to help. “Extra rackets? Food? Anything?” Feng said.
They provided extra instruction. The four players came over twice a week after school last spring to help coach. But other than that, what Marshall needed most was playable courts. Marshall never holds a meet on its two courts, but that’s where it practices and the two courts were a roadmap of 2-inch wide, 2-inch deep cracks.
“One time I rolled my ankle after stepping in a crack,” Park said.
“When I played on those courts,” Trapp said, “a couple of times the ball would hit a crack and go sideways. You could almost fit your foot in it, but not quite. I almost got stuck in it a couple of times.”
The four Knights were pleasantly surprised to learn it was cheaper to fix the courts than they thought. They wrote an essay and filled out forms that helped them obtain a $500 grant from the In Youth We Trust program through the Community Foundation of Northern Illinois. That was all they needed to purchase the cement and blacktop needed to patch the courts.
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But it also took a lot of work. A lot more than they expected.
“We expected it to take a while,” Feng said. “But what surprised us are cement sinks. We had to fill it up. Over and over again. We spent over 200 hours there.”
“Every time we went to the courts, I was there,” Park said. “There were times we would work from noon to 9 o’clock at night. We would be on our knees — sometimes even our stomachs — patching up the courts.”
The four received some help from Auburn Key Club and UNICEF volunteers, but it still took most of June and July to repair the courts.
“You had to stab the cement in with a tool and make sure to push it in so the cement is all solidified,” Trapp said. “If you just put it in and smooth it out on the top, there could be air gaps and lead to cracking again. We had to do everything multiple times. Push it in. Flatten it out. Push it in. Flatten it out until its filled.
“And you have to underfill rather than overfill.”
They learned that the hard way.
“There were times we had slip-ups and overflowed the concrete in the cracks,” Wang said. “That was the hardest part, where we had to chip it away. We got an icebreaker and had to whack it.
“You have to be really careful not to overflow it. It’s really easy to go over the line. We have to keep it smooth on the tennis court so there are no injuries.”
It took a whole lot of work.
“It is crazy how much Amy and Addysen did,” said Wang. “They would work until it was dark out, from daytime to dark.”
They didn’t mind.
“It was really satisfying to see the end result,” Park said. “I am glad I was able to do this and help the community.”
“Finding good courts that have no cracks is such a difficult thing,” Wang said. “Us patching up the courts helps encourage more middle schoolers to join the tennis team so we can get more players at Auburn as well as to keep the tennis program going. It broadens the tennis community.”
Matt Trowbridge has covered sports for the Rockford Register Star for over 30 years, after previous stints in North Dakota, Delaware, Vermont and three years covering the Hawkeyes in Iowa City.