When Derrick Griffiths was offered a job at Cedaredge High School, there was one catch.
"In order to accept the teaching position, they said I have to coach tennis as well," said Griffiths, who began teaching art at CHS in August.
"I said all right. I've always wanted to coach whatever, but I've never coached tennis."
Griffiths, a first-year teacher and graduate of Colorado Mesa University, is the first new head tennis coach in more than 30 years and takes over the boys' team from Don McFadden, who retired last spring after more than three decades of coaching. McFadden is expected to return this spring to coach the girls' team.
Griffiths, who also teaches a physical education class, hasn't ever played tennis, but spent this summer preparing for his new job, which included a lot of time on the on-line tutorial capital of YouTube.
The job comes with some challenges. For one, Cedaredge has only seven players, so each match opens with forfeits at three and four doubles.
Only three players have experience. Junior Austin Bowen is playing No. 1 singles, and Ryan Bowen, a sophomore and Austin's brother, plays at 2 singles after playing at 1 doubles his freshman year.
"They've helped me a lot," said Griffiths. "They've stepped up into that leadership role and to help me coach."
Peter Plonka, a senior exchange student from Poland, is the third singles player. Plonka played for eight years, then took time off after breaking his arm.
Landen Eckhart and Arie Wick are both playing their first season ever and partnered at No. 1 doubles. Garrett Peterson and Chris Runnels are playing at 2 doubles. Runnels, a new student at Cedaredge, said he came out because the team needed players and is enjoying the sport.
They've had some tough matches, said Griffiths. "Montrose really beat us up," he said. And they've lost both matches against Hotchkiss, although last Thursday's matches were much closer than their previous meeting on Sept. 6. Hotchkiss coach Brian Benson commended the players on their improvement.
Griffiths credited strong work ethics for his team's improvement and all-around good attitude. "From day one there's been so much improvement in how they're playing," said Griffiths. "These guys, they like to play no matter what. I think they're having fun."
Griffiths said he learned early on that in Colorado there are only two classes — 4A and 5A. With just over 260 students, Cedaredge is one of the smallest schools on the Western Slope that has a team. "I figured we would be a small team in a tough league." Still, he said, the team has as much fun playing against the bigger schools as it does the small schools.
Coach McFadden has also helped with practices and traveled to Grand Junction meets with the team. That saves Griffiths from having to return with the team to Cedaredge, since he commutes from Palisade.
The season — at six weeks the shortest of all fall sports — is going by fast, said Griffiths. The team will compete this Friday and Saturday at the annual Delta tournament.
Coach McFadden coordinated the tournament for several years, but Griffiths thankfully won't be strapped with that task, which was handed off to Hotchkiss coach Brian Benson.