It seems SI's Jon L. Wertheim's has created a stir with tennis fans after witnessing a growing trend over the US Open fortnight. In his "50 parting shots" Wertheim mentions:
Something to watch for: the graying of the "ballkids." I swear, for many matches, the average age of the officials was less those of the "kids" squatting at the net. Insert Kramer reference here.A clearly concerned reader responded in his September 17th mailbag saying,
Re: the graying of the ball kids. I, too, am deeply disturbed by this phenomenon, and can only think of one possible explanation. Perhaps ballboy is a tenured position, and the same people have been ballboying year after year since the beginning of the open era.Yes, ballkidding is a tenured position like being a long-standing professor at, say, Harvard. So Wertheim answers,
I'm not sure this is cause to be "deeply disturbed," but I think it's a shame nonetheless. I'm sure it's fun for the adults, but being a ballboy seems to me such an effective way to draw kids to the sport. They get to see top-shelf tennis up close and personal. They interact a bit with players. They see just how much talent (and mental strength) is required to be a pro. They get free gear. I think it's no coincidence that so many pros -- including Federer -- were once ballkids.Good point Wertheim! "Shame" is exactly the word I was grasping for here. But the drama continued in this week's Mailbag when another reader had this take:
About the Kramer-like ball boys, when a Rafa match (for example) goes on and on until past 2 a.m., you can't use kids because it's against U.S. child labor laws. So at least for night sessions, it makes no sense to use kids. So the ball men are necessary!Wertheim's response?
Those darn child labor laws! That's so F.D.R. We're talking about giving Radek Stepanek a towel, not working the graveyard shift at the bakery. Have we really gotten so soft as a society. ...No, you're right. I presume that's the reason many of the ballkids need their food cut into bite-size pieces and had to curtail their shuffleboarding in order to work the matches.Hysterical. Seriously, I could care less whether the "ballkid" is a teenager on summer vacation, a 31-year old marketing manager, or my grandpa. That's why they have "tryouts" - if you can run fast and throw far, you're in fair and square, even with grey hair.
(image via Getty)