10/28/14 11:42 AM
Coach Sam Kennedy and his USTA Southern wild card team came oh-so-close to a Junior Team Tennis national title in 2013. Now a year older and wiser in the ways of JTT, the Atlanta crew is poised for even bigger accomplishments.
By Liz McCollum, special to USTA.com
Sam Kennedy of Atlanta has been involved in an array of tennis programs for more than two decades as president of the South Atlanta Tennis Association and head pro of the Atlanta Youth Tennis and Education Foundation (AYTEF). Yet his eyes are just now opening to value of the USTA’s Junior Team Tennis program.
“I’ve had great teams,” said Kennedy. “We should have been coming here a long time. We never came because we just didn’t see the vision of it before. Last year, we came to the finals and lost by one point.
“Everybody sees the vision, so now Nationals is the goal.”
Kennedy’s players all learned the game through the USTA’s National Junior Tennis and Learning (NJTL) program. Through more than 600 non-profit youth development organizations, including the AYTEF, the NJTL network provides free or low-cost tennis and education programming to more than 300,000 under-resourced youth.
“We mentor about 2,500 kids a year through the Boys and Girls Club and YMCAs of Atlanta,” said Kennedy. “We run a 10 and Under Tennis program. We actually start them as young as 8 years old.”
Some youngsters get the tennis bug and don’t ever put down the racquet. Kennedy develops those players and now puts teams together with the goal of coming to Nationals.
In 2013, the squad won the Southern Sectionals and earned a trip to the JTT National Championships, also in Cayce, S.C. They reached the Advanced division final, but lost in a super tiebreak to the New England Section in what was been dubbed “The Battle of Court 16.”
Kennedy’s son, Sam Kennedy, Jr., part of the 2013 runner-up team, is now a freshman at Georgia State University and the No. 2 player for the varsity tennis team. His younger son, Zack, is following in his brother’s footsteps and will be a member of the Georgia State team next year.
The younger Kennedy is back with his teammates, enjoying the experience and meeting new friends. The team lost in the Section Championships to the local Lexington, S.C., team, but advanced to Nationals as a wild card team.
“We were fortunate to get a wild card this year to get in,” said Kennedy. “We still have a lot of work to do. This is a young team that we’ve got. We look forward to being back next year and every year from this point.”