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Tennis duo selected for leadership conference in Jackson

NATCHEZ — Duncan Park Tennis Director Henry Harris could only pick two children attending his summer tennis camp.

But when the time came to send two to the National Junior Tennis and Learning Leadership Conference in Jackson, Harris knew which two he wanted to select.

Valencia Bonds, 15, and Michael Cleveland, 15, who are both students at Natchez High School, will attend the United States Tennis Association’s conference July 29 through Aug. 1. Harris said it wasn’t just the two’s athletic abilities, but their grades that made them stand out.

“Michael is a 4.0 student, and Valencia is either a 3.8 or 3.9 student, and both of them have a lot of potential as tennis players,” Harris said.

“They’ll bring kids all over the South to this conference and do workshops with them, including tennis and academic stuff. It’s a way to reward people who went beyond the point of learning.”

Bonds said she was excited when she first found out Harris selected her approximately two weeks ago.

“I expect to learn more leadership skills and be able to improve as a tennis player while I’m there,” Bonds said.

For Cleveland, he wasn’t quite as excited to get asked into Harris’ office when Harris wanted to break the news to him.

“At first I thought I was in trouble when he called me in there. I didn’t want to have to run laps. I don’t get in trouble a lot, but that’s something he does to keep us out of trouble,” Harris said.

“When he told me, at first I was like, “Why did he pick me?’ But I was proud of myself for getting picked.”

And Cleveland said he hopes to learn some things he can teach to younger players at the conference.

“I’d like to learn some new tennis moves, and go through a couple of drills. I also want to learn to be a better role model,” Cleveland said.

Both Bonds and Cleveland said they take their academic work very seriously, and that studying comes before athletics.

“I put studies first before anything. There are times when that’s hard, but I try to balance both schoolwork and tennis at the same time.”

And for Cleveland, good grades are a borderline obsession.

“Church comes first, then grades. My grandparents don’t get too hard on me about grades, but I get hard on myself. I get mad when I get even a low B,” Cleveland said.

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