Harris, tennis program continue to instruct youth

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 28, 2017

City of Natchez Tennis Director Henry Harris said he has seen more than 80,000 kids come through his summer tennis program, with every one being just as rewarding as the last.

After establishing the program as a part of the National Junior Tennis League in 1976, Harris wrapped up another year of lessons this week at Duncan Park.

“The kids have continued to just learn. That’s the main thing,” Harris said. “We’ve just kept tennis up, and we’ve stayed with it.”

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This year, Harris said he had around 40 participants spilt halfway between a 10-and-under group and a group of junior high and high school players.

During the 1970s and 80s, Harris said, he saw numbers peak at around 1,500 students a summer from Adams, Jefferson, Claiborne and Franklin counties.

“This is probably our smallest group in ten years,” Harris said. “These days, kids get into so much stuff. We are pulling them between three or more sports. We get them when we can get them.”

Despite a decrease in participants, Harris said it’s possible the young players were able to gather a more exclusive experience. Each group has practiced two days a week since beginning in May.

“This gave us a little more time to focus on individuals,” Harris said. “With a big mass, we try to get to them in a hurry and just make it work. We really spent time this year teaching the fundamentals of tennis.”

With more than 40 years of experience teaching youth, Harris said he loves to see how players develop over time.

“The best part is to see the kids who can’t hit a ball when they first start leave here with the basic skills,” he said. “This was always a way for underprivileged kids to play tennis so they didn’t have to pay a lot of money. They get a chance to learn.”

While Harris said he might think about retirement soon, he still hasn’t lost his joy in coaching upcoming players.

“I’m now getting some grandkids of people who went through the program in the early years,” he said. “It’s crazy, but it’s great.”