Tennis, anyone?

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 29, 2007

The Selma Times-Journal

The James Perkins Jr. Tennis Classic has come a long way since Richard Williams made an appearance six years ago.

Williams is best known as the father of famed tennis players Venus and Serena Williams.

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But the annual event’s success is not necessarily in the attraction of more celebrities.

It can be seen on the faces of the very people meant to be reached: Selma’s youth.

“I wanted to give young people the opportunity to play this game and to be able to receive scholarship offers from schools across the country,” Mayor James Perkins Jr. said. “I wanted to be able to bring colleges and universities to this community to engage young people in a game they would be excited to play.”

Coaches and players from Concordia College, Alabama State, Alabama A&M and Stillman College participated Saturday in tutorials and exhibition matches – all meant to enhance the growth of a sport that is becoming more popular around the country.

A long-time friend of Perkins, ASU tennis coach and Selma native Bernard Sewell, shared that initial dream. From that grew the Selma City Schools tennis program, headed by Louis Hill.

“For years, these courts were here, and nobody used them,” Sewell said. “For years, scholarships at different college programs would go unclaimed. A tennis program can’t help but be strong when you start kids early.”

Hill sees the variety of ways an athlete’s life is impacted as the biggest benefit of the program and the game in general.

“This particular game involves so many traits kids are going to use in life,” he said. “You don’t have that team when you’re talking to an employer, when you’re making a decision about your livelihood. You have to stand and make those decisions on your own. You’re going to have to learn to be verbal – to communicate. You’re going to have to eat right and take care of yourself.”

Perkins hopes to apply the same effort into other non-traditional sports such as golf, and he noted the popularity of tennis locally.

“We had Concordia entering a team today, so we see tennis is growing at the collegiate level within the city,” he said. “This program has grown to be self-sufficient, and we hope it will be a feeder system for several college teams.”