“It’s a wonderful opportunity to serve.” No pun intended. Or maybe so. For Fondren resident Ann Brady, tennis is a passion, and as the executive director of the Mississippi Tennis Association (MTA), Brady said she loves giving back to the community.
Playing tennis as a way to socialize, Brady said it was in the 70’s that she found the game to be a way of getting out. “We had a babysitting co-op,” she told us. “I’ll keep your child while you go to book club and you keep mine while I play tennis.” Brady lived at the Reservoir and said that was when tennis was all the rage. And for her, it became an addiction of sorts. “You want to get better and so you play more and more.” And getting better paid off. Brady was the captain of a 1990 team that went all the way to nationals – and won on the 4.5 level.
In that same year, Brady began working with the Mississippi Tennis Association, inputting tournament info. She became their director in 1995. She loves the job for its variety and her great staff that includes coach trainers to marketing and public relations. “We have so much going on all the time and a fun group of people to do it with.”
With a state office located in the overlay district of North State Street, Brady says the area offers convenience. And she says Fondren is ripe for tennis courts. “We need them badly,” Brady told us, though she cites lack of city funding as a hold back. She is encouraged by the newly formed private group helping to rehab and add more courts to nearby Parham Bridges Park. “We need good courts all over. They’re full every day of the week.”
Tennis is a growing sport in the state. Brady says Mississippi is the 4th in growth and development in the southern region of the United States Tennis Association (USTA), impressive considering the population. “We have the second to smallest population,” she said, “only ahead of Arkansas.” There are 12,000 members in the MTA, mostly in the metro area. And with new offerings in adult and junior tennis, she says the time to start is now. Alternative leagues for adult team tennis have formed and a simpler method used for years in Europe has finally made its way to the U.S. Ten and under players can enjoy smaller racquets, smaller courts and low compression balls that make the sport less intimidating and fun.
Children begin as early as five and it’s a game that has some shelf life. “We have a team of 80 year old men that play.” Junior cup tournaments are hosted for the young ones while senior players have their own tournaments as well. And there’s a division for every age and skill level in between. And opportunities for college players? “Oh yes,” Brady said as she cited Devin Britton, who, at the age of 18, won the 2009 NCAA Men’s Tennis singles championship as a freshman at Ole Miss. He is the first men’s tennis player at that school to ever win a NCAA men’s singles championship. He is now a professional player, but Brady says it’s not an easy road. “It’s a been a struggle for him,” she adds. “He just won his first pro tournament this summer after three years on the pro circuit. It’s tough out there.” Seeing his successes makes Brady happy. “We had him on the cover of one of our yearbooks. Seeing him in pictures at a young age when he started with us at MTA until now; it was full circle.”
Scholarship opportunities exist for young players though she said cases like Britton’s are rare. “You won’t see many division one players,” she told us. “But Belhaven and Millsaps both have strong programs and great opportunities.”
Founded in the 1970’s, Mississippi Tennis is a division of the southern tennis association which is a part of an even larger U.S. Tennis Association. With so many moving parts, Brady says their mission is still a simple one: to develop and grow the game of tennis. “We foster programs for adult and junior tennis,” she said. “We put on tournaments and help build community tennis associations all over the state.” She says it’s really a huge task. “We are assisted by local league coordinators who do a lot of the leg work in the communities around our state.” Brady said MTA hosts carnivals, does mail outs and is featured in media around the state as a way to bring light to the game of tennis.
Want to play? Call your local tennis facility. Ask about programs for your age group. Brady suggests getting in a group lesson to play with other beginners. “That’s how you learn,” she said. When you get serious, then, Brady said, you may look at private lessons. Until then, find a team and just play. “We’re trying to change the view. Tennis is a team sport.”