Jackson’s love for tennis continues to grow as she improves gamePublished 12:01am Friday, April 13, 2012
NATCHEZ — Whitney Jackson decided as a fifth grader that tennis was the sport for her, thanks in part to her dad and Duncan Park Tennis Director Henry Harris.newly
Elston Van Jackson had Whitney and her sister Brittany Jackson out playing tennis when they were young. Elston Van, who learned tennis himself from Harris, arranged for Whitney to learn the sport from Harris when Harris moved back in town while Whitney was in fifth grade.
Now a junior at Natchez High School, Whitney said Harris’ tutelage has gone a long way in her development as a tennis player.
“He’s really funny and makes it interesting,” Whitney said. “He teaches you discipline and how to get in shape.”
While Whitney said she has loved tennis ever since she started playing, her love for the game grew even more when she was forced to sit out for a year as a freshman because of scoliosis surgery.
“I traveled with the team, but I really didn’t want to be out there, because watching it made me miss it,” Whitney said. “It made me realize how much I liked the sport. When I got cleared, I spent all summer getting back into it.”
With the help of Harris, who Whitney refers to as Coach Hawk, Whitney said she has been able to get comfortable moving back and forth on the court again.
“He works with me on how to stretch out my back,” Whitney said. “He shows us a lot of support, and he does a lot for us. He’s also a very nice person to talk to about things other than tennis.”
Whitney said she also counts on support from her mixed doubles partner, Michael Cleveland. Since Whitney’s surgery, she said she has only been able to play mixed doubles, because she needs the help on the court.
“He cheers me on,” Whitney said. “He’s one of my biggest supporters. He jokes with me, saying stuff like, ‘I knew you could do it, Brokeback.’ He calls me that because of my surgery.”
Whitney said she enjoys Cleveland’s sarcastic means of support, even if other people might interpret it as Cleveland being mean to her.
“He’s a good encourager,” Whitney said. “He’s my backup (on the court). I have the net and he has the back.”
Cleveland said he and Whitney argue a lot on the court, but that’s just how they communicate.
“We still get along a lot better than the other teams get along with each other,” Cleveland said. “We get along even when we’re losing — which is not often.”
Cleveland said Whitney is a good player because of her determination and focus, and because she started playing early in life. Cleveland also said they argue so much on the court that it’s hard to remember what they’re specifically arguing about, but he does remember one recent off-the-court issue.
“Just the other day, we rode to the courts together, and she acted like she wasn’t going to let me in the car,” Cleveland said. “That just upset me.”
When she first started playing, Whitney said she was surprised to see there was so much more to the sport than just hitting the ball.
“Coach Hawk taught me the different grips, techniques, forms and positioning on the court,” Whitney said. “It’s more a mental game than it is a physical game.”
Whitney said her strengths as a player are her volleys at the net, her forehands at the baseline and her determination and effort. She said determination and effort make a big difference in drowning out outside noise.
“When you’re down against someone and their teammates are cheering them on, you just can’t focus on those distractions and let people get to you,” Whitney said.