The tennis tournament was already under way when TNT Elite arrived at Auburn University’s Yarbrough Tennis Center. The squad wanted to warm up but all the courts were in use.
“We got there and they had already started playing,” recalled Susanna Wiggins, of Gardendale. “They wanted to get in the matches before the rain started.”
But the lack of a tennis court didn’t stop the team that trains at the Jefferson State Community College campus in northern Jefferson County.
“We walked on over to some basketball courts next door and started hitting back and forth in the parking lot,” Wiggins said.
The impromptu training site proved to be a launching pad for the team, which went on to finish second in the 18-younger intermediate division of the Alabama Junior Team Tennis Tournament. The runner-up showing qualified TNT Elite to play in the Southern Section JTT event this weekend in Rome, Ga.
TNT Elite is a diverse squad of boys and girls who live in Gardendale, Fultondale, Bessemer, Roebuck, West End and Tuscaloosa.
The parking lot practice court had to seem like old times for TNT, which stands for Top Notch Tennis. The courts at Jeff State are in need of resurfacing. The courts have been in such bad shape that players have hit balls on the nearby parking lot instead. A team member used a weed-eater to cut away grass that grew through cracks in the courts.
“It didn’t feel any different,” Gardendale’s Adam McGuire said. “All that mattered is we hit before we played the game.”
Coach Gerald Henderson said the success of his 10-member squad is a result of dedication. “They don’t complain about the courts or anything like that,” he said. “The kids give everything they’ve got.”
A grant from the United States Tennis Association helped Henderson get equipment for the team’s training and equipment.
Fifteen-year-old Lauren Bridges travels from Tuscaloosa.
“I just really love this team, and I just really love playing the game,” she said. “All these people love it just as much as I do . . . It’s like family.”
Jamiya Ivory, 12, is the team’s youngest member but said she’s not intimidated.
“I’m just trying to get better,” the West End resident said, adding that her baseline groundstrokes are her strength.
At the state tourney, TNT Elite faced “country club-type” opponents but was undeterred. “What really matters is our participation and cooperation as a team,” Wiggins said. “As long as we work together and act like a family, it doesn’t really matter.”
Added Henderson: “I just tell them the same thing. If they work hard, it’ll pay off. They’re just as good as anybody else and can beat anybody on any day.”