Football players across the state are turning to boys tennis as an alternative

(Photo courtesy of University athletic director Ryan Wehrman)

Gunnar Ponzer always wanted to give tennis a shot. He and his friends would sometimes go to a court and hit some balls around just for fun, but rarely was there ever a chance to do it competitively.

At least until COVID-19 turned high school sports on their head. Boys tennis was one of four  XDC V  sports given the green light to compete in the fall. Ponzer had spent his previous falls making a name for himself on the University football team.

"A linebacker and a running back," he boasted proudly.

In 2020 his shoulder pads and helmet have to wait. Instead, he's lacing a pair of sneakers and grabbing a racket to play tennis at a competitive level.

"This was my best opportunity because nothing's going on right now," Ponzer said. "I might as well just play tennis because I've always wanted to."

His football coaches offered encouragement that he find an activity for the fall, much like the Limon coaches toward their boys golf team.

For Ponzer it was a no-brainer but he had no desire to do it alone. He pushed fellow junior Jack Virgil to join the team, too.

"There was a little back and forth on if I'd do it but there are still fall and winter workouts," Virgil said. "That was something I took into consideration but overall I just wanted to stay active."

(Photo courtesy of University athletic director Ryan Wehrman)

Athletically, this is one of the biggest ways for a high school kid to go out on a limb. As a couple of kids who have played football their entire lives, taking on a new challenge with no previous experience can be a risky decision.

"I've had people just ask me how it's going and things like that," Virgil said. "There were a few friends that asked why I was doing it and I should just be working out. But for the most part friends and coaches just ask how it's going. There's no real negative or positive reaction, it's very neutral."

If he needs reassurances, he doesn't need to look far. University athletic director Ryan Wehrman pointed out that during a match against Riverdale Ridge there was an opposing player who also jumped at the chance to play tennis with football getting pushed back. Before long the players' parents were talking about the shared experience.

About 30 miles away, Mead added an entire tennis program. It also got a boost in numbers when Brayden Keys, Nathan Bailey and Porter Eastin all grabbed a racket and jumped at the chance to compete in something different this fall.

Kids want to continue to be kids. And as the world and the Colorado high school sports world tries to claw its way back to normal, nothing is going to stop a group of competitive-minded athletes from finding different ways to battle.