It was late one Sunday night, not too long ago. Preston Poon was sitting quietly in the terminal at the airport in Dallas, his bags packed, waiting for his flight to be called.
His plane was late that night. So, having some extra time, the Scarsdale senior unzipped his bag, pulled out his math textbook and began preparing for the next day's test.
Poon didn't really see much of the city over his three-day visit. He doesn't have time for sightseeing. Even though the senior has been all over the country making stops in Michigan, Kentucky, California, Arkansas and Illinois, to name just a few, he doesn't really know much about them besides their airport and tennis facility.
For twice a month, every month, over the past four years Poon competes in USTA tournaments all over the country. The national events can take place anywhere from 3,000 miles to 300 miles away.
He gets on a plane after school Thursday, travels to his destination, plays one or two matches on Friday and will continue to play until he either wins the tournament or is eliminated. Some tournaments can last as long as two weekends, others it's a couple hours before the Swarthmore-bound senior heads back home.
Poon's not alone. A number of members of the Scarsdale High School tennis team travel to play in tournaments all over the country.
Senior Justin Reindel needed to take last year off from playing with the high school team as he traveled to compete in tournaments. Sophomores Ben Fife and Austin Kaplan also play in these national competitions, while junior David Goldberg mainly plays in the USTA sectional tournaments, which are typically held in the northeast.
Even though tennis is a huge part of their lives, each one of these player's primary goal is to excel in school before tennis.
"You have to learn to be able to fit your work into your schedule," said Reindel who will attending Amherst College in the fall. "You have to be able to find time at these tournaments to do your work otherwise it's impossible to do both."
"I always bring my work with me," Poon said. "I take my studies very seriously. I'm focused on my academics first, then tennis."
These tournaments are different than the high school events. In these USTA competitions, they are facing some of the top players from around the country. But unlike high school, these tournaments lack the team aspect.
When Poon or Reindel or Fife competes, they are competing for themselves. When they lose, when they make a mistake, it's solely on them.
"High school tennis is more fun," Goldberg said. "It's more team-oriented. There's not as much pressure to do well. If you're struggling your teammates can step up and help you out. But in the USTA tournaments it's much more satisfying when you do well because it's only you out there."
"I love playing in tournaments," Reindel said. "Last year it was tough [to stay on the high school team] because a lot of the USTA events were played during the week and I was going to have to miss so many of the high school events. I like the competition at the national tournaments, but I like the camaraderie of the high school team."
It's a tough schedule for a lot of these players. Most are traveling out of the state twice a month, every month throughout their high school careers. They are playing tennis, whether it's with their high school team, private coach or in a tournament six or seven days a week. But none of them would ever think of substituting tennis with anything else.
"I love it," Poon said. "I've made this a huge part of my high school life."
And as their time in high school winds down, Poon and Reindel, will get a well-deserved month off from competition before heading off to college and starting their next cycle of tournaments.