(The following blog was written by Dan Genzler of Sioux Falls, S.D. It is also posted at www.genzmania.blogspot.com)

Fanfare rarely follows a young athlete like Valerie Robinson, a Vermillion junior who won the second flight consolation championship at the 2011 South Dakota Girls State Tennis Tournament.

Tennis athletes like Robinson have the passion, desire and dedication for their sport at the same level of others in track and field, football, basketball or any number of sports. They won’t play at Wimbledon or the U.S. Open, but they will at state tournaments and other event venues as they provide thrills for their families and fulfill their competitive and personal goals in a sport they love to play.

Every year Vermillion competes in tennis against the biggest schools in South Dakota without complaint. They go out and work hard, trying to do what they can to win and help their team succeed. Yet, it is has been since the mid 1970s that a Vermillion team has won a tennis championship. Still, they go on and with extraordinary dedication.

Due to budgetary constraints, the Vermillion School Board made the difficult decision to eliminate the boys and girls tennis programs earlier this year. After that decision, a Vermillion parent’s group, in support of VHS tennis, asked the school board if they could raise the necessary funding needed to save the program. In good faith, the school board gave them the go ahead.

This coming weekend (June 25-26), the “Save Our Sport” tennis group will try and raise money through a tennis tournament to be held at the DakotaDome Tennis Courts. Anyone interested in participating, volunteering or sponsoring the tournament should contact VHS Tennis Coach Dan Hanson at dan.hanson@k12.sd.us or go to http://www.vermillion.k12.sd.us%20and/ print an entry form. All proceeds will be directed to saving high school tennis in Vermillion.

“We are hoping former Vermillion High School tennis players, parents of current and past tennis players as well as friends, businesses and others will rally behind our efforts. We hope that they will support this when they see its legacy and interest levels,” said Curt Robinson, a member of the Vermillion “Save our Sport” VHS tennis program effort.

According to Robinson, who is Valerie’s dad, the Vermillion School Board has given the group until August 1 to raised $8,500 to fund the program for 2011-12. The fundraising effort will provide financing for the coach’s salary as well as travel and equipment expenses.

“I think one of the reasons to keep the program in tact is that tennis has a long history in Vermillion and that there is significant interest among students at VHS. We appreciate the fact that the Vermillion School board has been gracious to let us try and keep this program going,” he said.

Robinson is like many other parents involved in this fundraising effort. His family has had a long association with the program. Aside from his daughter, his son Jordan played #1 singles until graduating in 2010 and another son Daniel is an eighth grade with an interest in playing.

“I have an interest for personal reasons because of my kids’ interest in tennis,” said Robinson. “But I believe that is true for a lot of people who are part of this effort. Tennis is a lifetime sport, that provides our children another team sport option at VHS,” added Robinson.

According to Robinson, the high numbers of students interested in playing means that a lot of families will be impacted by the loss of tennis.

“We hope this effort helps the School District meet loose ends until the VHS budget gets stronger. If we can help the school through a tough period of funding, it is a good thing because of the number of young people that it will benefit from salvaging a historically relevant athletic program.”

The Tanagers have a proud tradition of success, dating back to three consecutive state runner-up finishes by the boys tennis program from 1973-75. The VHS boys program has had a pair of individual titlists including John Van Why, who won the first flight title in 1952. In 1988 Nick Helwig won the first flight and he was second in 1986. Scott Hackler finished second at #1 singles in 1975. The boys program has also experienced doubles success with Hackler and Knutson capturing the 1975 title. In 1952, Van Why and Malone were second.

The girls program also has a legacy of excellence. One of South Dakota’s all-time greats, Karen Bernard Hegge, starred at VHS. She was part of three-straight state doubles titles from 1974-76. In 1974, she teamed with Beth Krause, and in 1975 and 1976, she was paired with Karen Kaltsunas to win titles. Hegge, who was inducted into the South Dakota Tennis Hall of Fame in 2010, led Vermillion to its only state title in 1974. Later, she played at the University of South Dakota and Augustana before winning six South Dakota Closed singles titles. As a freshman at USD, Bernard Hegge was 26-0 at #2 singles, winning state and regional titles and advancing the nationals in Denver, Colo. She transferred after her sophomore season to Augustana where she was elected co-captain. One of her highlights was defeating the University of Kansas number one singles player and teaming with Maria Bell during the Iowa State Invitational to defeat the KU’s top doubles duo, 6-0, 6-1.

From Bernard Hegge, to Helwig and Hackler and now to Robinson and others, both the boys and girls programs have achieved at a high level.

“We hope that people will support our efforts,” said Robinson. “It is really about the young people. They should get the chance to compete in a sport they love,” he said.

Anyone interested in supporting the “Save Our Sport” – VHS Tennis Program fundraising effort, may make a gift/donation to the Vermillion Public School Foundation, Inc., Attn. VHS Tennis Program, at 17 Prospect Street in Vermillion, S.D.