Front row from left: Mardochee Bellevue, Ana Lopez Garcia, Krina Estrada, Emma Matias, Coach Blair Jefferson. Back row: Erik Hernandez, Adan Cruz, Brandon Gallardo. Armando Rios is not pictured. (Patty Brant/Immokalee Bulletin)
Four young women at Immokalee High School are taking their first steps into a new world. First year I.H.S. tennis coach Blair Jefferson, and a host of volunteers are guiding their steps. Ms. Jefferson, the Highlands Elementary School PE teacher, took on the high school tennis team just last January. With only four first-time tennis players on the team, anything they may lack in basics they more than make up for in heart and enthusiasm. Every young woman has been dedicated to practicing and has shown desire and eagerness to learn - and excel - at the game. The team has eight matches this season, with the last one against Clewiston on March 10. Although they had not won a game as of early March, their spirit and their enthusiasm has not been dampened. Coach Jefferson said they have played some powerhouse teams, but all have been helpful and encouraging to Immokalee’s young and inexperienced team. Every Friday the team gathers for team clinics, which are sponsored and hosted by I.H.S. at the high school courts. They are presented by volunteer coaches from Pelican March Tennis Club, Naples, and others. Members of the boys tennis team and middle schoolers are all welcome at the clinics. “Tennis is an awesome outlet,” Coach Jefferson said, “in addition to building social skills and having fun.” Encouraging passion for their sport, life skills and healthy activity, the four IHS team members have taken to the sport. Senior Krina Estrada rounds out the group of three sophomores, Emma Matias, Mardochee Bellevue and Ana Lopez Garcia for the team. Each echoes the other with their enthusiasm for a sport none ever thought they would be able to play.
Ana Lopez Garcia takes as swing volunteer coach, Coach Jefferson and her teammates look on. (Patty Brant/Immokalee Bulletin)
Ana said she enjoys the exercise and meeting people. Never sports oriented, she’s thinking of going out for basketball and golf next year. She’s been inspired to try new things. This year she checked out the school’s mock trial and plans to participate next year. She wants to be a lawyer to help workers one day. Ana is also a role model for her sister who wanted to go out for soccer but was afraid to. So Ana told her that she’d go out for tennis if her sister would go out for soccer. Her sister hesitated too long to register this year, but is ready to sign up for next year after seeing how much the experience means to Ana. Mardochee thought tennis seemed fun and interesting so she decided to give it a try. She and Krina are both Immokalee Readers, tutoring Highlands students in reading and math. She wants to go to FSU to study finance. It was the fun and outside activity that got Emma’s attention, too, and she likes that they “prove themselves each game.” She’s decided she’d like to try basketball and soccer and looks forward to a career in art or the military.
Volunteer Ron Helley demonstrates the game as his young enthusiasts take it all in. (Patty Brant/Immokalee Bulletin)
Krina is the team’s rock. She doesn’t give up and encourages the other girls along the way. An athlete, she also runs cross country and track and field (1 mile and 800 m). She calls tennis her “new found love.” One day she wants to be a politician and work for the environment, like Al Gore. Coach Jefferson said that is a fairly new program at I.H.S. A lifelong devotee of the sport, she just wants the kids to know that tennis is for everyone. You don’t need money to play or a country club. She’s hoping her efforts will break the tennis stereotype for Immokalee students. She sees the potential in her team and would like to try summer camps as well. Jim Holt, Sr., directs the Touch of Tennis program. For many years he was an assistant coach to the women’s team at Gwynedd-Mercy University in Pennsylvania. Eight volunteers from Pelican Marsh Tennis Club’s Center Court Athletics - Immokalee Foundation rotate weeks, coming to Immokalee to share their love and knowledge of the sport. The program evolved over a few years, after Mr. Holt and his wife offered to teach English classes for The Immokalee Foundation. Instead the Foundation suggested he could help by fostering a tennis program. His son heads up the Touch of Tennis program for special needs at Gwynned-Mercy and has approved using the name for the local tennis program. The I.H.S. boys tennis team benefits from the clinics as well. They are also out on the court trying hard with only four members: Erik Hernandez, Adan Cruz, Brandon Gallard and Armando Rios. Tennis is opening a new world of friendships and a calm lifestyle and these Immokalee High School students are making the most of the opportunity. They are learning new things, expanding their outlook and discovering that they don’t have to be intimidated by something new and different.
Emma Matias and Mardochee Bellevue go for it. (Patty Brant/Immokalee Bulletin)