It’s a golden afternoon at the Huntsville Tennis Club and laughter rings out across the courts. For the Jemison varsity women’s tennis team, the opportunity to play the competitive sport is a first.
Created in the 2016-2017 school year by English teacher, and now coach Abigail Bush, the tennis program is gaining in popularity among the students.
“A lot of kids that go to Jemison don’t have much to do within many miles of their house,” said Bush. “I wanted to bring them a hobby that doesn’t cost them a lot of money or resources.”
Bush knows the sport of tennis provides lifelong advantages. Besides building stamina and strength, learning to play tennis as a school team provides a great environment within an individual sport. It also creates a lifelong social network.
Not just a sport, building a community
Playing tennis is facilitating a new love of school and helping these young women build pride in themselves. One struggling student, new to the school’s magnet program, didn’t know if Jemison was the place for her. Then she joined the tennis team, and now she’s plugged in and wants to stay.
“When you’re invested in tennis, you’re invested in your education, reputation, teachers, and school. At the end of the day, that’s what we want for all students,” said Bush.
Not just a team, becoming a family
Each of the team members offers glowing remarks about their team, coach, and community.
“The team is like a family,” said Sydney, a sophomore who credits her teammates with teaching her to take risks and chase her dreams. “If I want something, I can work hard and succeed.”
Melody says the team has changed her life. “It’s taught me how to be bold and get into something new.” The 11th grade student further remarked how important it is to her to see the community attend their games.
Mara, another 11th grader, describes the bond she has developed with her teammates, “They make you want to be a better player and a better person at the same time. No matter how you are playing, they will support you.”
For Olivia, a 10th grader, she is most proud of the team’s reputation and diversity, “We are all good kids, and we don’t get in trouble. Tennis made us understand that even though we come from different backgrounds, we’re still a team.”
Jemison’s tennis team may be inexperienced compared to their high school competitors, but they are winning matches. When Alissa won the first round of regionals, her teammates celebrated her success and believed it validated the women’s talent and ability.
Home team advantage
Jemison team will soon have a chance to play on their home turf on six new lighted tennis courts being built on campus. By late fall, they’ll no longer have to travel across town to practice.
“The demand is there, and now we have room to grow,” said Bush. “Being at home and hosting teams gives us ownership and another element for our team to be proud of – great facilities for our players and crowd.”
And with the new facilities on campus, the men are joining in the fun. Jemison will introduce two new teams next spring – men’s varsity and men’s junior varsity.
With growth, however, comes added pressures on resources. The tennis program will need new equipment to maintain the courts, a storage shed, and funds for items like scorecards and baskets for tennis balls. In addition to home court expenses, the program is also going to need a bus. Their 2019 spring schedule includes at least 20 away matches.
“Transportation has been a hurdle, especially going into the second year with multiple teams and many more players,” said Bush. “Last year, I just drove the women’s team to 14 matches, all away from Huntsville.”
Coach Bush wants to make sure everyone can play. “It’s hard to charge these students a lot to play. Students can pay over a $1,000 to play tennis at other high schools.”
Invest in success
To help support Jemison’s tennis program, Coach Bush has created a virtual donation page on the Huntsville City Schools website and Donors Choose:
• Court squeegees for maintenance and rain (4 total @ $80 each = $320)
• Ball baskets (hoppers) for practice (4 total @ $40 each = $160)
• Large ball baskets for drills (3 total @ $160 each = $480)
• Scorecards (8 total @ $40 each = $320)
• Tennis ball machine ($1,000 each)
• Transportation to away matches ($2,000 for a bus or to rent vans)
Under the leadership of Coach Bush, the Jemison women’s team, as well as the two new men’s teams, are scoring big by changing lives. With the right investment from the community, they will go far.