The restoration project is ahead of schedule for the Brainerd girls' tennis team.
After years of not having a program, the Lady Panthers brought the team back in the spring of 2014. Head coach Alphonso Canty and twin daughters Brianna and Brittney made an immediate impact, with the sisters advancing to the region doubles individual semifinals.
This season has been even better, as Brainerd went unbeaten in district play and won the team title. In addition, the twins again claimed the district doubles title while Yasmine Foster, who transferred from Arts & Sciences to Ivy Academy in Soddy-Daisy two years ago, was the singles champion.
Success in tennis is not uncommon for minorities — see current greats Venus and Serena Williams, as well as the legendary Arthur Ashe and Malivai Washington, who reached the 1996 Wimbledon singles final and was ranked as high as No. 11 in the world.
But in the Chattanooga area, it's become the exception more than the norm for high school tennis. Former Central standout John Mitchell, now a student at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, advanced as far as the region final. Arts & Sciences sisters Kayla and Ahmee Kelly won the A/AA state doubles championship in back-to-back seasons in 2009 and 2010.
CSAS coach Jerry Pate, as well as figures such as former Central coach Jack Mitchell and Michael Scott, who spent two seasons as a coach at CSAS, have played a role. So have organizations such as the Racqueteers.
But team success hasn't been the case, until now. Adding sports such as golf and tennis was part of principal Uras Agee's vision when he became the school's leader before the 2013-14 school year. His vision was to give more students the opportunity to learn and compete. That led to Canty becoming the new coach, a fair amount of success last season and the jumper to team champions.
"My daughters have helped tremendously," Coach Canty said recently. "They've stepped up as leaders, which has helped me focus less on them and more on the other girls that didn't know tennis as well. Our focus has been on being consistent, because that wins."
Coach Canty praised the help of George Provost, who is very involved with Chattanooga tennis. Provost directed Canty on whom to see to get rackets for the team.
"He's done a great deal," the coach said.
Tennis hasn't exactly been the easiest of sells at the high school. It's taken a while for the other students to embrace the team.
"At first, people said, 'You play tennis? You're black," Brianna said.
Added Brittney: "Somebody told me that tennis was a 'white person's sport.' It's like they only focused on football and basketball here."
The girls said that the school has begun to embrace them, though. People are starting to wander around the courts during tennis matches, and the team made the morning announcements recently due to their success.
They'll face District 5-A/AA champion and defending region champ Boyd-Buchanan today at 4 for an opportunity to advance to a state sectional. The Lady Bucs are considered the home team for the match, which will be held at the Brainerd recreation courts, mere footsteps away from the high school.
"This year has been a perfect opportunity for me to play tennis," said Foster, whose mom introduced her to the sport at the age of 6. "Brainerd just came out of nowhere and formed a team and gave everybody an opportunity to play tennis.
"It was a hard decision for me to leave Arts & Sciences, because I love the school, but I'm happy with the decision."
Contact Gene Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.