In the summer of 1996, six-year-old Seth Hale moved onto the campus of Johnson University. The thing that excited him most was the view of tennis courts from his bedroom window. Seventeen years later, Hale founded the Johnson University men’s and women’s tennis program on those very courts.

Ten years later, the team is playing at the NAIA level, on new courts, with players from around the world. While the current program has been the realization of one dream, another dream has just begun: the expansion of tennis into the surrounding community.

In spring of 2022, the United States Tennis Association (USTA) approached Coach Hale with a grant proposal to start a community tennis program in South Knoxville.

The initial programs began in June of 2022 and offered tennis classes for kids and adults of all ages. The kids’ programming taught players as young as age four through high school. Hale then offered two classes for adult beginners, eventually splitting players into an intermediate class. When he launched the programs, there was some concern about interest since there had been a very minimal tennis presence in South Knoxville, but surprisingly Hale had to add a second adult class after the first filled up within days.

In total, Coach Hale and his assistant coaches operated clinics for 18 weeks with 112 participants.
Maggie Yoakum, a local parent, said, “The Johnson USTA program has been a huge blessing to my kids. They loved getting outside, learning the new game of tennis, making new friends, and working with the staff. The staff was kind, helpful, and patient! I’m so grateful for this program and my sons are excited to start back in the spring.”

In addition to providing an opportunity to spread the love of tennis, the classes also provided hands-on coaching experience for Johnson student-athletes. Many players want to get into coaching after they graduate from Johnson, and working with young children and adults is a different skill set. The players worked with our coaching staff to develop practice plans and learn teaching techniques as well as bond with members of the community. Both the children and adults taking the classes enjoyed receiving feedback and encouragement from the player “experts.” And after spending 18 weeks together, our tennis community is stronger than ever.

Sara Rawlinson, a local teacher and community member, said, “Last summer, I had the opportunity to attend a beginner-level tennis camp at Johnson University. Coach Hale and his amazing staff created an environment where I felt encouraged and supported as they patiently taught me the foundations of tennis. I look forward to the next tennis camp opportunity where I can continue to learn the game!”

We are excited to bring our second year of USTA community programming this upcoming spring and summer and to see Johnson’s mission spread into the community through the sport of tennis.