Up the ladder

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 21, 2007

Selma teen wants to go as far as tennis will take her

By George L. Jones

The Selma Times-Journal

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Sobeyone Southall has Harvard University in her sights.

As is the case with several young people who want to attend school there, her reasoning was simple: It’s the best.

The 13-year-old has been playing tennis for just four years but has yielded a fair amount of success in that time, especially recently.

Southall’s star is rising with each tournament she wins, but she still has a long way to go.

Her first hurdle was winning the confidence of her father.

“They first told me she could play, and I told them she couldn’t,” Albert Southall said, referring to Sobeyone and her mother, Jackie. “I had to see it. Once I saw, I believed. I knew she was athletic, but I didn’t know about tennis.”

Albert Southall jokingly added a theory as to where his daughter got her talent.

“She must have picked it up playing ping pong.”

No matter how it happened, Sobeyone has an impressive learning curve.

Her most recent tournament victory was at the Brookhighland Jr. Open in Birmingham last weekend. She won her first two matches on tiebreaks in the third set then swept Emily Crawford 6-3, 6-0 in the final.

It was her first tournament on clay.

It took Sobeyone a while to get going after she first picked up a racket. She never quite was able to believe she could beat an opponent.

“It wasn’t until I actually won a match in a tournament two years ago,” Sobeyone said.

Since then, she has gone on to win six tournaments in addition to competing with the Selma High tennis team.

No stranger to setting goals, Sobeyone already has her eyes set on success with the Saints.

“I’m going to be the No. 2 player next season,” she said. “I’m going to try to go undefeated, and the year after that, I want to be the No. 1 player.”

Even with her talent and the benefit of being an honor student her entire life, it’s a long road to Cambridge, Mass., for many students and athletes.

Sobeyone has to contend with playing a sport in an area where so many more options are much more appealing.

The Black Belt, after all, is the heart of basketball culture in Alabama. And Selma is no exception.

But given time and opportunity, she thinks several of her peers can accomplish things in the sport of tennis they never would have considered.

A lot of her enthusiasm stems from the teaching of Selma’s tennis director, Louis Hill.

“If they tried it for at least one season, they’d figure out they like it more than they think they would,” Sobeyone said. “He (Hill) tries to correct any mistakes I have. Every so often, I go out and hit with him some at practice.”

Hill is also helping the Southalls find scholarships and multi-cultural grants.

For the most part, Sobeyone’s mother handles her tournament schedule and preparation during the summer. It was Jackie Southall, a former tennis player herself, who first encouraged her daughter to take up the game.

Although tennis could potentially be the key to her future, Sobeyone’s interests in the game are much simpler – for now, anyway.

“I like the fact that it’s exercise and fun at the same time,” she said. “It also helps you in other parts of sports. Tennis, it’s more of an individual sport.”

It isn’t always a picnic, however.

“You play year-round when it’s very, very hot and when it’s very, very cold.”