A-E looking for ways to grow tennis program

By Steve Williams

Co-Head Coach Tomere Clark is seeking a solution to end “the difficulty of fielding a tennis team” at Austin-East High School.

Last week he requested The Focus to come out and cover his team’s match at Carter to stir up interest in the sport and maybe carry over to next season. At that time, he thought Carter had “a total of five players (boys and girls),” while A-E had two players (one boy and one girl).

As it turned out, Carter had 10 players (six boys and four girls), enough for a full boys team to play six singles matches and three doubles matches.

Lainey Corum, who is in her second season as head coach at Carter, was gracious to provide two of her players to play A-E in singles and a male and female to play a mixed doubles match.

“They don’t have mixed doubles in high school,” said Clark, “but we do it for fun for the kids and keep them involved in the sport.”

Clark said Austin-East last had tennis teams in the late 1980s. “Last September, we started with 12 players (and then) it started going downhill.”

This season the two A-E players are sophomore Carmella Darling and freshman DaJohn Upshaw. Darling played a half-season of tennis last year before moving to Knoxville from the state of Washington.

“I believe these two players are going to be the restart of our program,” said Clark. “We started with our first (abbreviated) match against Union County and basically they took off with it. Since they practice together, they wanted to play together. We’ve been having fun ever since then.”

In addition to Carter, Austin-East has played abbreviated matches against Union County, Samuel Everett, Northview, Pigeon Forge and Rockwood. A-E will end the regular season against Fulton Tuesday and then will participate in the District tournament on May 5 at Tyson Park. Our two players will compete in the singles tournament.

Clark said the Emerald Youth Foundation plans to help start a tennis program at Vine Middle, which is a feeder school for A-E. Sanford Miller Jr. is the East Knoxville sports coordinator for EYF.

Austin-East can play its home matches at Harriet Tubman Tennis Courts near Vine.

Having to forfeit two singles matches and one doubles match in girls’ play has contributed to a 0-5 team record at Carter, but its program is in much better shape compared to A-E.

Carter’s team effort gets high marks.

“They are really eager to learn,” said Coach Corum. “This is a good team to rebuild with this year, hard-working and very coachable, which I’m very grateful for.”

Two Carter players commented on the positives of playing high school tennis in an effort to help stir interest in the sport at A-E.

Olivia Willard, a junior in her first year playing, said things she’s enjoyed are: learning about the sport, the team we’ve put together, making new friends and being out in some beautiful weather.

She also said it’s a great feeling to score a point. “I get excited every time. I run to Lainey and like, ‘Yes, I got a point,’” she laughed.

Carter sophomore Julian Wampler said he joined tennis for the social aspect of it, but has learned that there’s more to it. “Tennis is about focus and hand-eye coordination and as a multi-sport athlete; this sport helps me to stay in shape and to keep my body right.

“Spending my days out here whenever I’m not practicing for other sports also has taught me to influence my peers by just being a leader out here on the tennis court.”