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THE INVITE THAT WASN'T

The Havre Invitational Tennis Tournament means so much to the Blue Pony program. But, in 2020, like so many sporting events, there will be no tennis this weekend in Havre

 

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

Havre High tennis coach George Ferguson practices social distancing Monday at the Bill Vaughey Memorial Tennis Courts, where, the 2020 Havre Invitational was set to take place Friday-Saturday. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, HHS tennis season and all spring sports are on hold.

With the exception of the first week of practice, the Havre Blue Pony tennis teams, like all other spring sports in Montana have been left in limbo.

Thanks to the growing COVID-19 pandemic, there is a void in sports right now, but for the Havre High tennis teams, this weekend will especially feel empty.

Friday and Saturday was scheduled for the Havre Invitational at the Bill Vaughey Memorial Tennis Courts, and the courts at MSU-Northern, which is one of biggest and most exciting meets for the Blue Ponies. Havre always enjoys its home meet, especially since it often celebrates the seniors, too.

But, with the possibility of a jeopardized season in the midst, the Ponies may not even get to take the court for a 2020 season due to the coronavirus concern that has halted spring sports as of now.

Not having a home meet is tough and HHS head coach George Ferguson feels for his team.

"The Havre Invite is something we really look forward to," Ferguson said. "We only get one home meet every year, so we really do it up big. It's a great two days, and to not have that, this week has been really hard. It's really disappointing, because this week is supposed to be a showcase for our program and senior day on top of that, and all kinds of big things. So it's tough for sure."

What is even more special about the Havre Invite is that every player, both varsity and junior varsity, get to play. The younger players and newcomers thrive from experiences like that, which hurts when that chance is taken away.

Overall, it is just a special meet to the team.

When it comes to this weekend, the Ponies know that it is "The Invite." There is no other way to explain it. Celebrating the senior class, watching the younger kids compete and the atmosphere overall all mean a lot to Havre. Now, all that is being put at the wayside for now.

And while, Ferguson said, this week will be emotional, the entire halt to the tennis season has been especially difficult.

"It's been really hard," Ferguson said. "We have over 50 kids out for tennis this year, we have a program and tradition built up to where these kids wait all year for the spring to get here. They work hard at tennis year-round. And now, it might all be taken away from them. So it's tough. It hurts."

Having over 50 players brings a lot of depth and positive outlooks foe future years, as well. At the rate things are going, though, that depth and talent may not even grace the courts this season. It is not an easy thing to work with, but there is not much to do about it.

As mentioned before, the Havre Invite is a big day for the senior class, who have worked hard in their tennis careers and look forward to being recognized for their efforts. With COVID-19 running rampant, that moment may be ripped away from the 2020 senior class.

Jake Huston is one of those seniors who has excelled at doubles in his time as a Blue Pony. When it comes to the Havre Invite being left in the dust, Huston is fairly bummed about it not happening.

"The atmosphere is the thing I miss the most," Huston said. "It has been a lot of reminiscing lately. Playing tennis is fun and all. I love the sport. Hanging out with my friends, competing and practices are all fun. It sucks, for it all to go by and maybe not get that one extra year."

But at the same time, Huston knows that it is the only reasonable course of action to take for the betterment of the community's health.

"But, overall, health is the main part in this case," Huston added. "Doing what is best for the people right now, it is very helpful in a way. The whole tennis season and school possibly ending is hard. I'm just trying to keep myself busy."

Not only is the loss of the Havre Invitational tough on the seniors and the coaches, but other players are feeling the impact of it, too. Junior Tamera O'Leary has been making great progress in her career at HHS, but now the loss of the what is a big week in each tennis season is hard.

Missing a year entirely is a rough thing to happen for any sports program. Even so, O'Leary still keeps both her love for the game and her team with her, despite the current situation.

"What I love the most is how close we are," O'Leary said. "I love that it's just like family. You know what I mean? I think it's really sad that if we don't have the Havre Invite, it's the one thing my mom can really go to. I just think it's one of my favorite meets and it's going to suck to miss that."

The Pony players and their teammates have grown a strong bond and love for the game. Without it, many are left in an odd spot. It is hard to keep up the energy when there is nothing to fight for or work towards. But when it comes to the hard times as of late, O'Leary has been staying strong.

"Me and my friends have actually went out and played tennis," O'Leary said. "Other than that, I've been staying inside. It's just so fun (tennis) and it sucks that it probably is going to be a very, very short season or not at all."

This weekend is always and emotional time of the year already for the team because of the home meet and senior night. But this year, the emotions are a different feeling. Instead of proud, accomplished, happy and grateful feelings, there is an aura of worry and sadness surrounding the Ponies.

At the end of the day, Ferguson is battling for his team. He has ran miles for his team and worked hard to keep their energy up in case the best situation happens. Like many coaches in Havre High athletics, the season means so much to Ferguson year in and year out.

"It's hard and emotional to even talk about," Ferguson said. "I'm trying to stay positive and hope for the best. Coaching these kids means the world to me. Not being around them, and not being able to be there for them has been really hard for me, because it's something that I care about so deeply. But, at the same time, I'm also doing what I can to get through what we are all going through, and so right now, the health and safety of our kids, and all of us as a community, that's what matters most."

Ferguson, who has been posting on his Blue Pony Tennis Twitter account a ton lately, as well as staying in touch with his team via texting, will not quit for his Ponies and is ready for them to do their best if that time comes, too.

"Like I said, it's hard, just not being able to be a team, that's so tough," he added. "Tennis is an individual sport, but it's also a team sport and we really take pride in the team aspect of high school tennis, and I really miss that. I know our players miss it too. So I'm just hoping for the best and we'll see what happens, but especially for our seniors, I hope we get to move forward at some point, and if we do, our kids will be ready to do special things on the court."

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

The table that is used for the annual Havre Invitational tennis tournament won't be needed this weekend. The Blue Pony tennis teams now hope to have some sort of season, even if its not until later in the spring.

All that is left for Ferguson and his team to do is hope and make the most of what they can in the current coronavirus situation. There is no telling as of yet what may happen to Havre High tennis and spring sports in general, but the Ponies know the weekend that was supposed to be The Invite will come and go, and that is something that will hurt Ferguson for a long time.

"I posted the other day that, in my 18 seasons, as bad as the weather can be around here, it has never canceled a Havre Invite. We've had to postpone, move the date a couple times, but we've played it every single year I've been the coach," Ferguson said. "So this is just strange. I just don't know what to do with myself right now. I still went down to the courts on Monday and cleaned them up, like I would during every other Havre Invite week. So again, this hurts, but everybody is hurting right now. This situation is affecting everybody deeply, so I'm just going to keep fighting and we will get through this, and someday, we will have a Havre Invite again."

 

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