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Young tennis players sharpening their skills at Duncan Park

Tennis instructor Henry Harris, right, looks on as Kelsey McNeal, 10, takes a swing at a ball during the Duncan Park summer tennis camp Tuesday afternoon. (Jay Sowers \ The Natchez Democrat)
Tennis instructor Henry Harris, right, looks on as Kelsey McNeal, 10, takes a swing at a ball during the Duncan Park summer tennis camp Tuesday afternoon. (Jay Sowers \ The Natchez Democrat)

NATCHEZ — The City of Natchez Tennis camp has been going on for more than 50 years, and since Henry Harris took the reins in the 1970s, he has helped hundreds of young players get into the swing of things.

Fourteen-year-old Xavier Hawkins is one of those players, and he has been training with Harris for a few years.

Harris plans to take him, and a few select campers to the National Junior League Rally in Dallas, Harris said.

“We pick our teams from the kids at the camp, the ones who put out (hard work),” Harris said. “And Xavier has developed a game to where I want him to go to Dallas and compete.”

Hawkins said he has improved drastically since his alliance with Harris, and he also said he’s confident about competing in Dallas.

Xavier Hawkins, who will be a sophomore at Cathedral High School this fall, takes a swing at a ball during the Duncan Park summer tennis camp on Tuesday afternoon. (Jay Sowers \ The Natchez Democrat)
Xavier Hawkins, who will be a sophomore at Cathedral High School this fall, takes a swing at a ball during the Duncan Park summer tennis camp on Tuesday afternoon. (Jay Sowers \ The Natchez Democrat)

“I look at it this way, if you never lose, you never learn, and you never learn if you never lose,” Hawkins said. “I’m just ready to go.”

In his freshman year at Cathedral High School last year, Hawkins won the district title but fell short of the state title with two 0-6 losses to St. Aloysius in the first round of the playoffs.

With three more years to go, Harris sees a lot of potential in Hawkins.

“He has the potential to go to college (to play tennis),” he said.

Harris believes that a few of his players will be able to compete on the college level.

That is one of the reasons several parents send their children to Harris in preparation for the next level.

“It keeps the (children) out of trouble,” Hawkins said. “He also helps you learn the basics of the game.”

The City of Natchez Tennis Camp is just a small sample of the year-round training Harris does.

Harris said there used to be two camps during his tenure, one at Duncan Park and one at North Natchez Park, but things had to change.

“We had two programs going, but we narrowed it down to one, putting it in one big package,” Harris said.

Harris said the camp, hosted at 1 p.m. every Tuesday and Thursday, varies from age, starting as young as 5 years old, up to 18.

“It’s more of a fundamental camp, trying to introduce tennis and playing in the heat, along with learning how to hit the ball correctly,” Harris said. “We work on the backhand and forehand ground strokes and also serving, but our main focus is getting them used to the heat.”

There are all types of children who show up to the tennis camp, hoping to learn a few things from the long-time instructor, Harris said.

“We have some baseball kids, some that split time between basketball and tennis and even some football kids,” he said. “It’s just a mixture of kids.”

Though there are a lot of multi-sport athletes at this camp, there are also a few who only play tennis.

Harris said any children who want to learn tennis can come to Duncan Park and enroll in his summer camp.