Hillsboro High School activities director Robert Rempel compared hosting a state tournament to a gigantic party — his goal was to make all the competitors, coaches, and fans feel as welcome and comfortable as possible.
On Friday and Saturday morning, that meant setting up a concession stand and hospitality rooms. Throughout both days, Rempel, with teacher Bob Woelk, ran the information and sign-up booth at the tournament. The tent was never vacant, with a succession of players and coaches asking about schedules and courts. As much as he had prepared, he could only be so specific about when and where a player would be on a court.
Rempel is faced with some decisions that can upset people. Friday morning, he was part of committee who set up the seeding for the tennis tournament. The goal is to establish the best player in the tournament, among the regional winners, and then seed the subsequent players accordingly. The decision this season was easier with two-time defending champion Jake Norman of Wichita Independent at 20-0. However, Jason Bieberle of Claflin had a record of 30-0. Rempel was proved right — Norman did not lose a set en route to a third consecutive state title.
“It’s a simple seeding process, but it’s not always fair,” Rempel said. “The Wichita region is tough. The two best players could be in the same regional.”
The state tennis tournament Friday and Saturday was a party that involved 72 players from 22 schools. Rempel coordinated those players onto 12 courts. Thankfully, Hillsboro has that many with the four courts at Tabor College, without them Hillsboro would not have been able to host the tournament.
Each of those players comes with an entourage of family and friends for support. Including preparation for regional baseball and softball tournaments Monday and Tuesday, Rempel has not slept as much; he told his wife he‘d see her next week.
“It’s an honor to host,” Rempel said. “It is more work if we host. Obviously, people think we can host them.”
In the past two years, Hillsboro has hosted a track regional, basketball sub-state, baseball regional, and softball regional. But, regional tournaments are easier to run because there is only one side of the bracket.
“It’s pretty much a seven-, eight-, nine- team tournament,” Rempel said. “But state’s the big dog.”
Hillsboro was selected to host this year’s tournament in May last year. Hillsboro is familiar with hosting state tennis. The town hosted the tournament two years prior. That week temperatures were in the 30s, including rain, and a driving wind that forced teams to huddle around buses to break the gales.
Rempel was briefly worried about a similar situation until the sun broke through late morning clouds on Friday.
“Tennis is the worst sport when it comes to moisture,” he said. “As soon as the concrete is wet they stop playing.”
Other court maintenance includes keeping sand, rocks, and pine needles off the Hillsboro courts. Rempel credits Doug Sisk with court maintenance.
Hillsboro also has the disadvantage that they do not have a clubhouse like some complexes in Wichita or Kansas City.
“Why do you agree to do all these things?” Rempel has been asked. “Which one am I supposed to say no to?”
There are plenty of advantages to hosting a tournament. First, Rempel pointed out the district’s ability to show off facilities and athletic programs.
“It’s great to play at home,” Rempel said.
He also believes tournaments can provide a part-time economic boon to local businesses.
Wendy’s general manager Warren Nelson said the restaurant had more business over the two-day span.
“We saw a lot of parents from out of town,” he said. “I thought it was a good deal.”
Ampride clerk Jeannette Schaefer said business at the convenience store had twice as many customers as usual on Friday. Energy drinks and Gatorade flew off the shelves.
Vogt’s Grocery Store checker Samantha Stika noticed the grocery store was busier during the tournament, but only one customer actually relayed to her they were in town for tennis.
“For regionals, you’re bringing in 50 people at a minimum,” Rempel said. “For state, its several hundred people who eat at the restaurants, fill up the motels.”
There are also the individual interactions that Rempel cherishes.
“When people come back and say they felt at home,” he said. “Our community is a very accepting, friendly community.”