The Road to Texas Junior Sectionals
Texas Junior Tennis: 1900 to Present
May 28, 2019
In less than two weeks, Super Champ level junior tennis players from across the state will head to Abilene where they will compete in the nation’s largest junior tournament, The Texas Slam. Super Champ players have been considered the most elite junior tennis players in Texas for over 30 years, when the current three-tier ranking system was implemented in 1988.
The Texas junior ranking system has seen significant changes over the past 100 years. In the early 1900s, not long after tennis came to Texas, sanctioned junior boys played in either 18-and-under or 15-and-under age groups while girls could only compete in 18-and-under. It wasn’t until 1953 that the 15-and-under girls division was added. By 1960, juniors had a chance to play in 13-and-under and 11-and under. Finally in 1962, the now familiar 18, 16, 14 and 12 age divisions were established.
Sectional Championships for juniors have changed through the years as well, not only by site, but also by format. Beginning in 1939 men, women and juniors were brought together at the Texas Sectional Championships, a combined Sectional for all age divisions that used a single-elimination format. The event was held at various Texas cities and there was no qualification or requirement for entering.
The tennis boom of the early 1970s brought such an influx of tournament entrants and created such stress on efficient tournament operation that a separate Junior Sectional Championship was created in 1976. Played in Dallas at the Samuel Grand Tennis Center, that first Junior Sectionals instituted a first-match loser singles consolation which was so well received that a full feed-in singles consolation was added to the 1977 Dallas event.
The Tennis Advancement Program (TAP) was introduced in 1979 and entailed a two-tier qualification system, which divided junior play into two levels and restricted entry to Junior Sectionals. Draws at Junior Sectionals were reduced to a maximum of 64 players.
From 1978 to 1982, San Antonio’s McFarlin Tennis Center became the familiar home for Junior Sectionals. In 1983, the Texas Tennis Association (now USTA Texas) became the official presenter of Junior Sectionals and the event was moved to Austin and headquartered at South Austin Tennis Center.
Championship players would arrive in Austin with their sights set on a sectional ranking or even an endorsement to the summer National Junior Circuit. They would have been notified by postcard of their first match time and location; however, the opponent’s name would not be available until registration. Players would check-in at South Austin Tennis Center to receive their registration packet and draw, instructions, maps and coupons. Players would also receive a copy of their player records as recorded in the TTA computer for verification and accuracy. Matches would begin mid-day Sunday at all of the Austin Parks and Recreation tennis centers, the Penick-Allison UT varsity courts, the UT intramural courts and club courts at Westwood, Courtyard, Lakeway, Lost Creek and Austin Country Club.
The two-tier system was effective for over a decade, however, by the late 1980s Texas junior tennis was more popular than ever and changes needed to be made. Designed to keep draws small, make tournaments more manageable and give juniors multiple ways to qualify, a three-tiered system was introduced in 1988. The levels included Regular Players (Zone), Championship and Super Championship.
While the levels may seem similar to the current system, there have been some changes over the years. When introduced, the Section was divided into zones based on tennis-playing population. Regular players were required to play in the “zone” (ex: Northeast, Southwest) in which they lived. To qualify for the Championship level play, there were four Zone Advancement Tournaments (ZATs) held January through June, where players could qualify for Championship play. If they didn’t qualify but accumulated enough points during the four tournaments they would get an invitation to ZAT Masters, which was held once a year and qualified a few additional players for the following year. To qualify for Super Championship play, four Championship Major Zones (CMZs) were held. Players could accumulate 64 points during the Championship Major Zones or by invitation to the CMZ Masters, where a few additional players would be qualified. Because USTA national mandated that children 12-and-under have more playing time, more fun, less stressful competition and no rankings, Texas created a 12s Zone tournament program for them. Their tournaments were specifically designed to reduce pressure associated with tournament play while increasing the opportunity for competitive fun through the use of a non-elimination format.
The first Super Champ Major Zone (SCMZ) was held the weekend of February 20, 1988 in Corpus Christi. Players, coaches and parents who had anxiously awaited the first test of the three-tier system had their concerns allayed and their hopes reinforced as small draws and good competition proved the system a success. The only problems were with scheduling because the more evenly aligned competition led to longer matches. A.G. Longoria out of Richardson said at the time, “I remember when there was only one level of play. At Sectionals, the draw for Boys 16s was 630 and the tournament took 11 days. Something had to be done then and we went to Championship and Regular. Something had to be done now and the three-tier system is going to be great.”
With the implementation of the new three-tier system in 1988, the Super Championship Junior Sectionals moved to Wichita Falls in June and the Championship Junior Sectionals moved to Abilene in August. The Championship Junior Sectionals was eventually eliminated and the Super Championship Junior Sectionals, renamed "The Junior Grand Slam" moved to College Station for many years. In 2017 the tournament, now called "The Texas Slam" moved to Abilene for a three year stint; This year will be the third year in that rotation.
As Texas junior tennis has continued to flourish, additional changes have been made over the years. The four major zones in Championship and Super Championship were replaced by the current rotating, 12-month calendar year, with major zones each month, giving players more options for tournament play and additional opportunities to qualify. Rather than having end-of-year rankings, junior rankings are now calculated the week following each tournament. Draws have continued to get smaller, with 32 player draws becoming the most common. Super Champs are often broken up into A, B and C draws, depending on their current rank on the Section standings list. Zonal restrictions went away for Regular players who are now more commonly referred to as “non-qualified” or “Challenger” players. They now compete in Challenger tournaments, as opposed to ZATs, and can earn points during a rotating 12-month calendar year, in any region in the state. “Ten and Under” tennis was introduced, providing tournament play for younger children, using smaller equipment and courts. The age progression allows these younger players the opportunity to feed directly into the Challenger or Championship level.
There is no doubt that the system will see additional changes as children continue to flock to the great sport of tennis. Good luck to all the players participating in the 2019 Texas Slam!
1958 Winners of the 13-and-Under divisions, Robert Fann of San Antonio and Katy Thompson of Ft. Worth
An entry form to the 1959 Texas Sectional Championships in San Antonio. At that time, the Sectional tournament was still a combined event that included adult and junior divisions. For the 1959 tournament, housing was offered at Trinity University dormitories for $2 per person, per night with an optional meal plan.
USPTA Assistant Pro Susan Torrance working at the first SCMZ, held in Corpus Christi in 1988
TTA Executive Director Ben Ball congratulates Ronnie Eddins after he won the first ever Super Championship Sectionals Boys 18 singles final in 1988 in Wichita Falls
ZAT Information Sheet from 1989
Players were notified by mail and sent a medal when they advanced to another tier
Major Zones would often start on Friday evenings at 6pm so that the 64 person draws, which included a full 2 out of 3 set format, could be finished by Sunday afternoon. Spectators of a CMZ at Bay Area Racquet Club can be seen here in 1990.
Players who earned enough points to qualify for a Masters tournament were notified by mail.
2018 Girls 18s Texas Slam winner Fiona Crawley (right) pictured with finalist Sydney Fitch