By DAVE LINK
Webb School of Knoxville’s Audrey Yoon and Harrison Williams are among the many high school seniors who lost their final seasons of athletics due to the coronavirus.
Yoon and Williams were slated to be captains when the Spartans and Lady Spartans began defense of their 2019 Division II-A state championships.
Instead, they played only a couple of matches before the TSSAA cancelled spring sports April 15.
It was a major disappointment, but Webb’s tennis teams are turning a negative into a positive.
They have spent the past couple of weeks putting together care packages for oncology and burn patients at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital.
“I’m really excited, not only to do this, but to see the whole team again,” said Williams, who has signed to play for Samford University. “I’m going to be able to see them and then also do something really good for someone else and just help our legacy. Our legacy this year is going to be something positive, not necessarily with tennis because we didn’t get that opportunity, but with the community.”
Webb’s tennis players are putting together the care packages this week and delivering them to the captains at the school on Wednesday and Thursday.
Webb coach Jim Pitkanen and a care worker will deliver the packages on Friday along with the team captains, who will stay outside the hospital.
Williams is the only boys’ team captain this year, while Yoon and fellow seniors Carina Dagotto and Anna Stout are girls’ team captains.
Yoon, the team’s No. 1 player, was hoping to lead the Lady Spartans to their 11th consecutive Division II-A state team title while also defending her state singles title.
“As a senior, I was extremely bummed out that we couldn’t continue our season and get that 11th championship,” Yoon said. “So when Jimmy (Pitkanen) suggested we should do something for the community I was all for it because Webb’s all about, especially the tennis team, we’re all about leaving a mark and wanting to do something for the community. To be able to do this instead (of playing tennis) is just great and it makes our team focus on something better during this time.”
The packages contain items for children such as coloring books, crayons, markers, and small board games.
“It’s essentially just small activities they can do (in the hospital),” Yoon said.
Yoon, who will play tennis for NCAA Division III Claremont-Mudd-Scripps College in California, has been working out on her own during the pandemic.
Her sister, Lauren, won the 2018 state singles championship and is finishing her spring semester at Emory University online. Audrey and Lauren are among four Yoon siblings.
“I’m not playing much tennis, unfortunately,” Audrey Yoon said. “We have ping-pong, so that keeps me busy.”
Williams, meanwhile, does running and conditioning workouts on his own, and practices about every other day with Ohm Sharma, Webb’s No. 1 player last year when the Spartans won a third consecutive state team title. Williams played No. 2 last year.
Sharma lives in a neighborhood which still has its tennis courts open and is finishing his freshman year at Georgia online.
Williams planned to play several USTA and college tournaments this summer, but their status is in question now due to the coronavirus.
His senior season was highlighted by a victory at No. 1 singles over Chattanooga McCallie on March 12.
It was the Webb boys’ only victory in a 6-1 loss and proved to be the last match of his high school career.
“I’d been looking forward to being a captain,” Williams said. “That’s a really big deal to me, being a captain, especially being one of the only seniors and the only guy captain. And there were a lot of new guys on the team this year so I was definitely looking forward to leading them and being a good role model for the rest of the team by working hard, going to practice and that type of stuff, and then obviously going to state and all the other tournaments. It’s probably some of the most fun I’ve had in high school.”
Pitkanen, in his 22nd year as Webb’s coach, misses the camaraderie of spring tennis season, but he’s proud of his teams’ mission off the court.
“I really miss the relationship aspect of it, seeing their results, seeing them improve through the season,” he said. “I miss that a lot. I miss the relationships with the coaches, working through the stress of what comes through the season. I was really positive that we were going to return (to playing tennis) for a while, and then I was really grateful how this turned for the kids when they chose something else to do (with Children’s Hospital). That was extremely positive.”