What the US Open Can Learn from Jewish Summer Camping

The decision to close most Jewish summer camps this summer was agonizing.   There were dozens of factors to consider in whether or not to open camp.  There were many practical and safety questions—for example, how to:   assure social distancing, effectively and accurately test campers and staff, manage potential outbreaks in camp infirmaries, practically and ethically deal with issues of potentially overwhelming small town hospitals in the event of huge increase in cases, etc.

At some point, camps began to wonder– at what point does camp STOP being summer camp when the usual offerings can’t be offered.  For example, what is summer camp with no Israelis (many bring 50 or more as part of the mishlachat/Israeli delegation), no out of camp trips, no visitors day, no visitors, strict policies on packages and deliveries, no staff days off, no visiting musicians or rabbis, no sports competitions with “rival” camps, etc.   There was also talk of the need to potentially exclude people with various medical vulnerabilities.  That didn’t feel to camps who strive to be inclusive.  Some directors and boards of directors reasoned, “When camp doesn’t look like camp, may be it is not worth running camp!”

This is where the US Open comes in to the picture.  I love tennis as much as I love camp.   I long for my three post-camp weeks at the US Open, writing for various publications.  I will personally be sad IF the US Open doesn’t take place.  It would mean no player interviews and articles, no seeing friends from around the world in the media center, no late night matches, no watching up and coming juniors, no watching the extraordinary athletes who play in wheelchair tennis.  

To be clear, no one knows yet if the US Open will take place.  According to an article in the 6/2 New York Times:  “U.S. Open Could Go On, With a 2-Tournament Bubble in New York,” there are many scenarios under consideration [ www.nytimes.com/2020/06/02/sports/tennis/us-open-new-york.html]. But the important camp-like question remains:  at what point will the US Open no longer feel like the US Open.

According to the article:

– If the tournaments can be held, there would most likely be no spectators on site — a major shift for the U.S. Open, a Grand Slam tournament that attracted more than 850,000 fans last year over three weeks.

-Even without fans or most stadium workers, rigorous testing would still be required at the tennis center to monitor and protect players, support staff and officials…Once on site, there would be daily temperature checks and health questionnaires, as well as frequent follow-up testing for the virus.

-There may be quarantine rules that could require some athletes to self-isolate after arriving in the United States and again in Europe after returning

-Wheelchair tennis is unlikely but has not been ruled out.

-The junior and legends events would be eliminated.

-There would be no ball kids, but adult ball persons would still be used to facilitate play; they would be required to wear gloves but not be allowed to handle player towels.

-There has been discussion of changing the format of men’s singles matches at the U.S. Open from best-of-five sets to best-of-three sets to reduce players’ injury risk

-The size of tennis entourages will be reduced (persons only one support person)

-To protect their health, players could be restricted to an official hotel, probably outside Manhattan, where they would have access to treatment, training and testing, and be transported directly to the tennis center in Queens.

-Qualifying tournaments are likely to be scrapped and doubles competitions to be included with reduced draws of 24 teams, but no final decisions have been made.

I love camp.  I am sad without camp.  I am moving on and looking very forward to next summer.  I love tennis.  I will be sad if there is no US Open.  We must continue to ask—at what point does the US Open stop being the US Open? 

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