Donations and volunteers help bring tennis to kids

  • Friday, June 13, 2014

  • Updated Friday, June 13, 2014 5:44 am

Eileen Keithly/South Strand News Aiyana Johnson, 6, left, and Bella Goude, 5, practice their eye-hand coordination during the first day of Georgetown Tennis Camp. See story, Page 2A.

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A former tennis pro and a state champion high school tennis player have joined forces to bring tennis instruction to the Front Street tennis courts in Georgetown.

Phillip Gibbs, a retired tennis professional from New York with family roots in Georgetown, and James Lee, a rising senior and member of the state champion Waccamaw High School tennis team, are holding free daily camps for the children attending the Love Chapel Deliverance Center Summer Program.

Gibbs ventured out to Stables Tennis Center in Pawleys Island looking for volunteers to help him get his camp started in Georgetown.

A mutual acquaintance had given Gibbs Lee’s contact information, and told him that if the sun was shining, Lee would most likely be on the courts at Stables.

“He was there, right where they told me he would be, and I am thankful to have him,” Gibbs said.

Lee’s high school coach, Lynn Hunt, was proud of him for taking the time to join the program. “James will be very good for the kids; he is a great leader and has a great deal to offer them,” he said.

From the moment they met, Lee and Gibbs joined forces to make sure the kids had everything they needed for a successful camp.

“This is a total volunteer, donation-funded camp” said Gibbs. “We are going to need people to come through for us, and help us help these kids get an introduction to tennis.”

A group of women in Georgetown who serve as culinary hospice volunteers gathered 39 youth tennis rackets for the camp. “I couldn’t believe it,” Lee said. “We had eight rackets on Friday night that had no strings, and on Monday it was like Christmas morning.”

Lee was overwhelmed at the outpouring of support for the program. Volunteers at the church provide water, snacks and lunch for the participants.

Carmen Williams brought her granddaughter and grandson to the camp.

“This is amazing,” she said. “If these kids can learn how to play tennis, they will have another avenue to higher education.”

Typically, Williams said, African American children don’t play tennis because they don’t have the means to obtain the equipment or the instruction. She believes the camp will open up some new athletic doors for the children who attend it.

“Can we do it again? Can we hit it again?” the children asked as they lined up to take instruction on the proper swing.

“Coach said I’m smart. He said I am a good follower,” Aiyana Johnson told her grandmother.

“Coach, let me serve one more time, I want to get it in this time,” pleaded Jaheim Johnson, Aiyana’s brother. Gibbs gave elementary instruction and practical advice to his new students.

“Always have a ball in your pocket,” he said. “Make sure you are ready to hit at all times.”

While Gibbs worked with the older students, Lee had the younger kids on his court. “This is a beautiful thing to see these neighborhood children learning how to play tennis on these courts,” said a proud Gibbs, explaining that there is a wealth of athletic talent in Georgetown that has never been exposed to the game of tennis.

The camp will continue for two weeks, and Gibbs estimated that the first camp will have just more than 30 children by week’s end.

Both coaches hope the camp will spark an interest in tennis among the children in Georgetown, and that they will be able to offer further instruction in the future.

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