Trigger warning: I just used the word “tennis” in a public forum in Rome, Ga.

If you’re not on social media, you may have missed the trend in which a number of citizens in Rome and Floyd County feel that the Rome Tennis Center is the poster child for all things wrong with the powers that be in Rome city government. These critics argue that tennis courts are an unwise investment of tax dollars because:

There is never anyone there when they drive by (therefore, there is no one there, ever).

Tennis is not a sport they appreciate (therefore, obviously no one else does either).

The facility contributes nothing to their lives (therefore, surely to no one else’s).

There are a lot of other things tax dollars should be spent on (and their list is top priority).

Did I cover everything?

It is pretty shocking to consider the amount of time and words that have been spent debating the value of this single Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax project that was passed into existence by the voting citizens of this community years ago. Additions are being made that bring the facility back to the forefront, but the mere existence debate should have been over a long time ago.

The topic comes up in the strangest of places, too. A downtown business license was denied? Critics say: They should have sold tennis apparel. A new trolley car is being introduced? Critics say: It’s probably intended to get people to the tennis courts. A business is closing? Critics say: They should have added a tennis court.

Sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying over the seemingly constant underlying theme of disdain and disillusion with our town and its decision-makers. Armchair critics are alive and strong in Rome, I can attest, but I am always left with the question: How are you contributing to the solutions you suggest?

Last week a photo was posted to Facebook by another of our community SPLOST-funded projects, The Public Animal Welfare Services (PAWS) facility, showing a representative of the Rome High School Tennis Team dropping off a donation of 60 tennis balls for the dogs to play with. The PAWS resident mascot dog, Gunner, is in the photo with his head resting politely on the desk, staring longingly at the tennis balls, clearly excited about the gift. His reaction is a precious representation of the sheer joy the shelter animals would experience from that small act of kindness on the part of the tennis team.

If you haven’t visited the PAWS facility, you should. The things they are able to accomplish with the new accommodations are spectacular in comparison to the limitations of the old location. The old facility was worn down and small and lacked the resources to address many of the issues that come with rescuing and managing the homeless pet population of our area. Just below the tennis ball donation photo, there was a post from just two days before noting that the facility was temporarily unable to receive anymore large breed dogs or cats because they were full. Think for a minute about what it says about the magnitude of our homeless pet problems in this community that the newer-bigger-better facility is already reaching maximum capacity at times.

If you’re not an animal person you probably haven’t been paying attention to our pet population. Whether you realize it or not, if you are a resident of Rome you have a vested interest in how our pet population is managed. Animal management is an issue of public health and safety, as well as a quality of life consideration, and the fact that we were able to fund this much better facility is an important accomplishment towards addressing this community concern.

So, back to tennis. It turns out those tennis balls donated by the Rome High team were likely used at the Rome Tennis Center, where the Rome High teams practice and hold their competitions. Those new courts are far better than what was available to the teams before and the space they took up is now available for other projects. No, this one use is not sufficient to justify the project, but my point is to acknowledge that there can often be things happening within a system that you are not aware of unless you ask questions or do a little research. There is usually far more than meets the eye as you drive by at certain times of the day and assume the worst.

What would it look like if those armchair critics became armchair researchers and community participants? I’m not saying everyone with an online opinion does nothing, but how often are harsh opinions tossed out without going to the source and getting to know what’s really going on? If we think something isn’t working, what if we got involved with making it work rather than writing it off as a failure and declaring our conclusions to the world? What if, instead of critiquing our community and how it is managed, we threw our hats in the ring to help with the decisions that are being made?

It is easy to decide how others should be doing things, but we rarely know all of the details and rarely is it as bad as we conclude. I love our town and while I don’t agree with all of the policies and projects that I hear about, I believe that the intentions are mostly pure. If you feel they are not, our community is much better served by those who are concerned jumping in and taking productive action rather than standing back and criticizing. That certainly gets us nowhere, no matter how loudly or angrily you throw it out there.

It’s kind of like momma used to say, “If you don’t have anything nice to stay, go toss some tennis balls and think about how you can help.”

Monica Sheppard is a freelance graphic designer, beekeeper, mother and community supporter living in Rome.