Booneville, Miss. – Joseph Shidler has seen the support and popularity for the sport of tennis grow at the youth level in the metro areas of Memphis, Tenn.
Now, one of the top players in Mississippi hopes to see the exact same thing happen in the northeastern portion of this state.
Shidler and the Northeast Mississippi Community College tennis program hosted members of the Booneville chapter of Boys & Girls Club of America on Monday, October 21 at the school's newly refurbished tennis courts for the first meeting of what promises to be a great venture for both institutions.
"It's very hopeful. I believe that we're supposed to help out with the community," said Shidler, who was ranked as the top athlete in the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 4A individual championship as a senior at Lewisburg. "I'm a Christian and I know that God told us to help others."
The freshman and his teammates instructed the children in attendance about the skills of the game, including a focus on hand-to-eye coordination, how to hold a racquet properly and hitting the ball with both forehand and backhand swings.
For second-year Northeast head coach Ben Shappley, the prospect to teach the next generation of athletes and a chance to have his players refresh their memories on the basics is something that he could not pass up.
"They asked if we might work something out where they can come over and we could spend some time with them," Shappley said. "That sounded great to me because I thought it would benefit the kids as well as my team too. Them coming out here working with the kids reinforces their own process."
Booneville Boys and Girls Club director Angelique Jumper and Shappley came together on the idea after the duo handled an introduction to manufacturing camp for the children.
The success of that project, coupled with a newfound interest by some of her youngsters in tennis, caused Jumper to contact Shappley once again.
"It gives them an opportunity to come onto campus and to play a sport other than football and basketball because I really want them to think out of the box," said Jumper. "I want to give them more opportunities on finding out how they can get scholarships in different ways.
"I also want to let them mingle with some of the college students and find out their career paths and also how they got to where they are."
Jumper had practices over the summer break for her children as early as 8 a.m. some mornings.
What developed shocked even her.
"It was just interesting to see how faithful they were in doing it. None of them were late and they were so excited," she said. "We noticed the potential that was there that we hadn't even thought about. Now we have a waiting list, so we have a lot of them that want to do it.
"Even the diehard football players said they don't want anything to come in the way of tennis. That was my dream and prayer. A couple of the parents were even surprised."
The kids participated in a few matches during the summer to raise their confidence, and Shappley aims to build off each child's particular talent level.
"Some of the kids I've noticed are a little bit more advanced than the others," said the Lady Tigers and Tigers headman. "Some you can tell this is a brand new experience for them."
No matter the extent of their proficiency in tennis, Shappley believes this partnership with a strong organization in the community can result in nothing but the best for both sides.
"Just working with the Boys and Girls Club and interacting with them feels good," said Shappley. "To get to work with them and introduce them to a sport and hobby that they enjoy doing and can occupy their time in a creative way is certainly good."