A gust of wind scattered some empty cups that had gathered on the table, their ranks in disarray as they were easily tossed about. I snatched at one as it neared the edge, but my fingers grasped air while the cup began its final journey to the trash bin. The string-cheese wrappers it had briefly played host to became erstwhile companions, spilling onto and becoming entangled in the few dried blades of grass that remained beneath the stands. I reached down to gather this motley crew before a greater escape could be arranged, shivering as the wind found its way through my jacket.
I looked at my companions, a nagging question finally burning its way to the surface. “Have you guys ever noticed that sports fans are a lot like street gangs?” My voice was louder than I had intended it to be; it has a way of getting out of control without my noticing. Two people turned to face me, quizzical expressions fixed on their wind-swept faces. Fog swirled around the top of the fence, sometimes obscuring the trees that surrounded the enclosure. The wind picked up again as I began to explain how sports fans claimed certain colors and insignia and how it was dangerous to wear your own colors when you were on someone else’s turf, i.e., a rival team’s stadium. The onlookers seemed to agree with me, one nodding inside his hood as he watched his girlfriend on the court. She was playing some guy who had a tuxedo shirt on. We were in Point Arena that day, and things were going reasonably well for the Anderson Valley tennis team.
After an absence that stretched into several years, the high school is once again home to a tennis team that carries the school name on its jerseys. Unfortunately, all the money the school had allotted for the team was spent on those same jerseys, which are no more than white t-shirts with “Anderson Valley Tennis” printed on the front. At least it’s all spelled right. We have personalized water bottles, too, albeit the personalization was achieved with a magic marker, and I think the bottles were either free or stolen, much as the shopping cart that held our tennis balls was. It doesn’t matter that much, anyway, because we only took ourselves to three matches last season. Other schools’ tennis teams play fifteen in a league season. Why was AV left in the dust? Why do we face such terrible discrimination? The answer lies within the mind of our high school’s “Athletic Director.”
What athletic directors are actually supposed to do is somewhat of a vague concept even in the best of circumstances, and our circumstances don’t exactly conjure up that venerable descriptor. In fact, our director has become much more well-known for what he hasn’t done than for anything he has. Like the time he neglected to tell any of the baseball coaches about the league meeting, where league all-stars and such are chosen. Or the several times he decided not to have the gym cleaned before volleyball matches (one player told me, “it’s always clean for basketball games,” in the sort of angry tone you might expect for that sort of statement). Or that extended period of time in which he all but flat-out refused to make the one phone call that would have admitted AV’s tennis team into the league our other sports are a part of. I guess our coach erred when he assumed the Director would do his, er, job. When it became obvious the Director had no intention of making the call, he was asked for the number that would have enabled us do it ourselves. We never got the number. Apparently Herr Direktor doesn’t believe tennis is a real sport, to which one of our coaches replied, “I’d like to see his fat ass out here on the court.”
In spite of the Director’s passively antagonistic actions, we were able to schedule a meager three matches this past season, one of which was in Point Arena. PA isn’t exactly home to the typical tennis-playing demographic, and this fact is echoed in the courts themselves: they face the wrong direction. Tennis courts should run North to South because an East-West orientation leaves the players staring into the sun, regardless of the size of their visor or the time of day. Maybe facing the courts the wrong direction was Point Arena’s secret strategy for success, as none of their opponents can even see the ball, let alone hit it. And besides, if it’s cloudy or something, they could always just cheat. Which they don’t seem to mind doing.
On one side of the net two girls stood, both clad in hooded sweatshirts, tennis shoes badly tied, They seemed at home on this dreary day, drawing comfort from the chill wind. I scowled into the distance, the wind ruffling the leg of my shorts. I returned my eyes to the court as a ball was sent into play, falling listlessly over the net and bouncing on the unyielding cement.
The ball had come from the Point Arena side, where the same two girls remained, rackets grasped uselessly at their sides like two forgotten stuffed animals. One took a quick step toward the ball as it was knocked back by a dark-haired boy with AV on his jersey, but then stopped moving suddenly, having seemingly reconsidered her next move. Then she was in motion again, jogging to the back of the court, far too late to reach the ball that had bounced there, well within the faded white boundaries.
I clapped once, but even this subdued celebration was interrupted by the girl, who had finally retrieved the ball. “Out,” she said, one index finger raised in the air, validating her spurious words. I stared in disbelief, hands stuffed into my pockets. I turned to a teammate and saw that she, too, had witnessed this fraudulent victory.
It would happen several more times that day, this despicable cheating. When we mentioned it to the Point Arena coach, he shrugged and said nothing. He didn’t seem to see why it mattered. Our players on the court, a brother and sister new to the country, were too shy to contradict what the other team was telling them. Our team left bewildered, wondering what exactly the point of such behavior was. This was high school tennis, after all, not Wimbledon, and victory had little meaning outside of one’s own head.
On the way home we stopped at a convenience store in downtown Point Arena. On the wall next to a substantial cache of liquor bottles was a small sign. “In Point Arena,” it read, “you don’t lose your girl. You just lose your turn.”