Palmetto State Racket

Month: June, 2014

Lexington USTA team rallies around teammate with breast cancer

by Jonathon Braden


LEXINGTON, S.C. – They have helped her with life’s day-to-day tasks, such as finding something for dinner. They also have been with her during her most difficult moments, such as when Beverly Hill endured chemotherapy and lost her hair.

On March 10, Hill learned that the lump on her breast was cancerous and needed to be removed.

Ever since she received that call, her 16 teammates on her USTA league tennis team in Lexington have done whatever she has asked.

They call or text almost daily. They drop off meals. They sit with her.

Other friends also have helped Hill and her family, she said, and she’s grateful for all the support.

But how her tennis team has supported her and her family has especially stood out.

Four years ago, she joined this team looking for a group of ladies to play tennis with every so often. She now knows she has found a group of supportive friends.

“Tennis brought us together. We wouldn’t have found each other otherwise,” Hill said.  “(But) it’s not all about tennis. It’s about the relationships you form.”


On February 10, Hill found the lump on her breast during a self-exam. At first, she didn’t tell the team, hoping the lump wouldn’t be cancerous and that she wouldn’t need surgery.

That changed on March 10, though. And once her teammates also learned the news, they got busy.

Teammate Sioban Smith organized a way for teammates to sign up to bring food to Hill.

Every Tuesday and Thursday since, a teammate has stopped by with at least two days’ worth of food, Hill said.

They have stuffed her refrigerator with chicken parmesan and chicken pot pie. Her freezer has held pints of Edy’s strawberry and vanilla ice cream.

During one recent delivery, teammate Kay Wescott brought Caesar salad, chicken casserole, carrots, bread, green beans, and a key lime pie.

They have delivered non-edible items, too, such as copies of Better Homes and Garden and Southern Living and baskets of candles.

Captain Carol Wiggins has even sewn hats and scarves for Hill.

“It’s just been endless,” Hill said.

The day Hill underwent surgery to have the lump removed, Wescott made sure one of her good friends, a nurse, took care of Hill at the Lexington Medical Center, where the surgery took place.

Teammates dropped by the house during the hours and days following the surgery, too.

They also swung by the family’s home on April 2, Hill’s 49th birthday, and the day she underwent a double mastectomy.

To help Hill with her chemotherapy, Gabby Swearingen organized teammates’ schedules to make sure Hill had someone with her during the six-hour sessions. Teammates signed up for two-hour shifts.

Hill’s husband, a sister, and others sat with her during the first session, but during her second and third round of chemo, a teammate was there every hour.

The teammates sit next to Hill, who sits in a recliner and receives the chemo drugs intravenously. Her teammates try to take her mind elsewhere.

They talk about her two boys, the family’s plan to build a new house, and the team’s upcoming USTA league tennis matches.

(Last time, Swearingen even promised to do cartwheels and handstands if it would make Hill laugh.)

The teammates were there for Hill, too, when she wanted to shave her head.

It was the morning of May 17. She had previously undergone one round of chemo, and her smooth, black hair was falling out in clumps.

The team was already together; they were playing tennis at the USTA South Carolina 40 and Over State League Championships in Aiken. After their first match, during of which Hill played doubles, she asked her teammates to go with her for the haircut.

At the Great Clips in Aiken, her teammates laughed and cried when Hill smiled with a Mohawk. They laughed and cried some more when her head was completely shaven.

Together, they all smiled for a photo with the hairdresser.

Her teammates played the rest of the championships with Hill on their minds.

“Let’s do this for Beverly,” they said.

And a couple of days later, they were smiling again, celebrating their first USTA SC 40 and Over State League Championship. In August, they’ll compete against the best of the best in the South at their competition level.



Her teammates have gladly helped Hill as much as possible, but making time to do so hasn’t been simple. They, too, have busy lives with busy families.

For example, Wiggins captains the team, has a full-time job and is the primary caregiver for her 91-year-old mother.

Swearingen has two children and owns her own Lexington cleaning business.

But they all have made time for Hill.

“It’s because of her,” Swearingen said. “She would do the same for everybody else.”

Hill has done something similar for Swearingen.

Last October, Swearingen learned that her 12-year-old son had type 1 diabetes. At the time, she was the one trying to cope with health news, and Hill was the one dropping off meals and making sure Swearingen didn’t need anything else.

“When you’re a team like that and you see each other at least once a week, if not twice,” Swearingen said, “you develop bonds and friendships and you just want to support her, as a teammate and as a friend.”

Hill’s teammates will support her next month, too.

On July 10, Hill will go for her fourth and final scheduled session of chemotherapy at the Cancer Center at South Carolina Oncology Associates.

When patients finish their treatment there, they can ring a bell, their “End of Treatment” bell.

“Ringing the ‘End of Treatment’ bell can be a great emotional lift for both patients and families,” reads the website of the associates’ foundation.

Wiggins and Swearingen and other teammates plan to be with Hill on that day, as they have been throughout the past four months.


Ten-Minute Tennis Tip: Playing Under Pressure

by Lauren Stewart

The score is 15-30. You are on serve, but you’re down 3-5 in the first set. The pressure is on. You are starting to get tight. Your mind is racing and you are beginning to doubt yourself. What tactics or strategies can you use in this situation?

1. Breathe
It is very important in a tight, stressful situation on the court to take deep breaths. By taking longer, deeper breaths, we are getting more oxygen to our brains and we are able to think clearer. Make sure you take the time in between points to catch your breath and calm down before starting the next point. I used to always leave my towel at the back of the fence so I could have a few extra seconds to towel off and take longer breaths.

2. Have a Routine
I like to tell my students to have a routine before starting each point and after finishing each point. This routine not only helps to calm our nerves, but it also programs our minds to get us ready for the next point. If you are on serve, make sure you go through the same routine before serving. You can bounce the ball a certain number of times or visualize where you are serving; whatever works for you. Here’s a routine to try: After finishing your point, put your racquet in your non-dominant hand, look at your strings, walk back to the fence, and do a few shadow strokes. If you don’t like that one, that’s OK; just find a routine that fits you and your style of play. (And check out the below video, featuring the King of Clay as the King of Routines.)

3. Shot Selection – High Percentage Shots
When playing under pressure and the score is tight, try not to go for cute, low percentage shots like drop shots or sharp angles. Try going for your 90 percent shots – shots you will make 90 percent of the time. These are the shots you are most confident hitting. Cross court strokes, high lobs, or even shots down the middle are examples of high percentage shots. Make sure to get your first serve in, even if it means taking a little bit of pace off the ball. If you make a mistake, take a minute to think if that was the right shot for the point. Shot selection is key when the pressure is on.

Live Ball Practice:
For this drill, you will need a partner of about the same skill level.
A great way to practice shot selection under pressure is to play a practice match, but this won’t be your typical practice match.
For every game you play, whether you are serving or receiving, start off at 0-30. If you want to really put the pressure on, start each game at 0-40. By starting each game at 0-30 or 0-40, you will learn how to fight back in your match by hitting the correct shot at the correct time. It will also give you an opportunity to practice your mental toughness, your breathing exercises, and your pre- and post-point routines.

Stewart is the director of tennis at The Woodlands Country Club in Columbia, S.C. She also teaches tennis at the University of South Carolina, serves as a presidential appointee on the USTA South Carolina Board of Directors, and is the vice chairperson of the USTA SC Tennis Coaches Committee. Stewart, a Columbia native, played varsity tennis at Heathwood Hall Episcopal School for six years. She also is an alumnus from the College of Charleston, where she played tennis on a full athletic scholarship.

Podcast: Barbara Jones Shares Why We Need Summer Tennis Camps for At-Risk Kids

by Jonathon Braden

Barbara Jones, one of South Carolina’s finest tennis advocates, talks about summer camps, why at-risk kids need them more than anyone and how St. George is growing tennis.


PHOTOS: St. George Program Helps At-Risk Kids Learn Tennis

by Jonathon Braden

ST. GEORGE, S.C. – Check out the story we did about the fantastic St. George Summer Tennis Camp here.

Enjoy the photos, too.















One-Minute Tennis Tip: Perfecting Your Ball Toss

by Jonathon Braden

77-year-old Hilton Head Island woman plans on playing tennis forever

by Jonathon Braden

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. – Someone forgot to tell Sandra Armstrong that when you’re 77, you’re supposed to be sitting in rocking chairs and waiting for “Early Bird” specials.

You’re to stay completely away from tennis courts. You definitely shouldn’t be on them during the middle of the day and against people 20 years younger than you.

But even if someone had told Armstrong all of this, it’s unlikely she would have listened. She probably would have kept doing what she does today: play tennis as much as possible.

That’s what she was doing last month when we saw her: Playing tennis against people two decades younger than her when the sun was at its highest point.

Armstrong plays with Chris Boldrick during the USTA SC 55 and Over State League Championships on Hilton Head Island last month. (USTA SC photo.)

Armstrong, left, plays with Chris Boldrick during the USTA SC 55 and Over State League Championships on Hilton Head Island last month. (USTA SC photo.)

And her matches weren’t just ladies dinking the ball back and forth for the first time, either. Armstrong was playing in two of the premier events for South Carolina recreational tennis players: USTA South Carolina state league championships for adults 55 and over and for players 75 and over.

On May 4, she and her doubles partner won their match during the USTA South Carolina 55 and Over State League Championships. Her team advanced to the quarterfinals of the championships before losing to the eventual champion from Charleston.

For three days prior, Armstrong was even busier. She played and won three doubles matches during the USTA SC 75 and Over State League Championships. She also helped her team take home the championship plaque for their competitive division.

Armstrong, on the far right, competed in two USTA South Carolina state league championships last month on Hilton Head Island. (USTA SC photo.)

Armstrong, on the far right, competed in two USTA South Carolina state league championships last month on Hilton Head Island. (USTA SC photo.)

Four matches. Fours days. Two state league championships.

Not bad for a woman who is just four years shy of the average life expectancy of an American female.

“You can play forever – just look at me,” Armstrong said.

She’s able to play so often and so well at her age because she’s done what we’re supposed to do as we age: exercise and keep exercising.

Armstrong goes for walks most days of the week. She also plays tennis with friends and in USTA leagues about five times a week.

“You’d never know she was 77,” said Matt Wuller, director of tennis at the Sea Pines Country Club on Hilton Head Island.

Wuller helps Armstrong and five other ladies with their doubles strategy and tennis skills in general.

He helps them with their placement, such as how to use angles at the net and how to lob more to the opposite corner.

Lobbing the ball, a key doubles strategy, is one of Armstrong’s strengths, Wuller said.

“She keeps everything in play,” he said. “She moves so well.”

Armstrong wasn’t always such a pro, though. She started only playing regularly about eight years ago, when she was in her late 60s.

Nowadays, she plays tennis most days of the week and with people of various ages, including players in their 50s, 60s and 70s.

Armstrong does have one rule about whom she will play against.

She said she prefers not to play against players who have a certain something that tends to give away their ages.

“No ponytails.”

Armstrong celebrates her 55 and over match victory. (USTA SC photo.)

Armstrong celebrates her 55 and over match victory. (USTA SC photo.)

How To Overcome Obstacles and Get Public Funding For Your New Parks, Tennis Courts or Fields

by Jonathon Braden

In March 2013, Rex Maynard approached the Belton City Council with a fact: five city tennis courts that had been used during the city’s biggest event would need to be replaced before summer 2014.

The Leda Poore Park courts had visible cracks and were prompting safety concerns, Maynard said.


The cracks were long and visible at the park. (Submitted photo.)

And Belton needed to have better and safer courts to keep hosting the Palmetto Championships, the South Carolina junior tennis state qualifier.

What happened during the next 15 months would test Maynard, a longtime USTA volunteer, like few prior events.

Agreements that seemed set crumbled. Grants were sought and applied for, and deadlines were nearly blown.

Through it all, however, Maynard persisted, kept searching and persevered.

He also learned a lesson that could help anyone trying to build tennis courts, renovate a park or improve any public facility anywhere in the country: Be creative.

Months after that city council meeting, Maynard thought most of his work was done.

He met with Belton city officials and Anderson County officials, and he left thinking they had an agreement: Belton and Anderson County would split the cost of the new courts. Rebuilding the five courts would cost about $125,000, putting each public entity’s share at about $62,500.

Not long after that, though, Maynard learned the contrary: the money the county had planned to use for the courts would have to come out of the same county fund that pays for road repairs in Belton.

“Obviously, this did not go over well,” Maynard said, “resurfacing tennis courts instead of repairing roads.”

Soon came rumblings and news stories that Belton might lose the Palmetto Championships because the courts weren’t going to get replaced.

Maynard started lobbying the Belton City Council to pay for the entire project. He also learned about a local company that provided grants for community projects: The Timken Foundation.

With the foundation, Maynard decided to think big.

He applied for a $125,000 grant that would build not only five courts, but also add a sixth court and a shelter that would divide the courts, three on each side.

Last fall, Maynard heard back from the Timken Foundation: the project was approved for a $100,000 grant. By then, he had secured other public funding as well.

Maynard, elated, then went back to the Belton City Council, and they all settled on the following plan: Timken Foundation would pay $100,000; Anderson County accommodations tax funds would pay for $15,500; the State of South Carolina would pitch in $15,000; and City of Belton hospitality funds would pay for $121,000, or just under the estimated cost of the original project.

The Belton City Council unanimously approved.

And on May 21, two days before the 2014 Palmetto Championships started, the The Timken Foundation Courts at Leda Poore Park were completed.

completed courts

So how the heck did Maynard get a $251,000 project approved that involved three different public entities and a private foundation?

Going to the Belton City Council with $100,000 of private money in hand certainly helped, he said, and the other $30,500 in county and state grants made it so the council couldn’t said no. In other words, he had a plan and knew what it would take to get the council on board.

“They realized the need for improvements at the park, which is now almost 40 years old.  The city sees this as a significant start to the total renovation of the park,” he said.

He also formed relationships with the right people.

“I worked closely with several city council members who understood the importance of getting the project done, and they took the lead with council to help get unanimous approval,” Maynard said.

His work has spurred plans for future park improvements as well, including building a two-story press box and a concession stand.

“The new courts will allow Belton to retain its reputation as South Carolina’s tennis capital and mark the first step in a major overhaul of Leda Poore Park,” Councilman Jay West said, according to the Palmetto Championships program. “I think it is a very important part of the overall plan for the future of Belton. This is a great example of public and private sectors working together to get something done.”

It’s also a great example of a dedicated volunteer finding a way to make things happen.

center gate

Charleston team cries and shouts upon learning they’re going to USTA Southern Sectionals

by Jonathon Braden

Read more about the USTA South Carolina 18 and Over State League Championships here and here.

Rex Maynard previews USTA Southern’s S.P.U.D. Tournament

by Jonathon Braden

One of the most important tennis tournaments in South Carolina starts tomorrow in Belton. The always enjoyable Rex Maynard helps us preview this weekend’s S.P.U.D. Tournament.


Seeing SC: Rock Hill

by Jonathon Braden

One of dozens of fine, public facilities that help promote lifelong fitness and tennis for all.

One of dozens of fine, public facilities in South Carolina that help promote lifelong fitness and tennis for all.


We might think about the USTA Pro Circuit event in October, but it’s always on people’s mind here.


That’s a lot of fun times on the tennis court.


And don’t forget to grab some grub while you’re in Rock Hill and check out its developed downtown.