What started as something fun to keep in shape turned into a family affair, and a group from New Albany is being recognized on both the state and regional levels.
Holding 19 members strong, the Morris family, consisting of Susan Morris and her husband, Phil, their four children and their families, will be recognized later this month by both the Mississippi and Southern USTA as the Tennis Family of the Year.
Morris and her husband took up playing tennis nearly 45 years ago. Using the sport as a way to stay in shape and spend time with their growing family, they would play on what limited courts the community had to offer. Becoming more competitive, Susan would later begin playing in Tupelo, where USTA sanctioned teams were already in place.
“At that time, we only had two courts in town, over by the old swimming pool,” she explained. “Some of us in town started to have a few fun tournaments among ourselves. We were not a part of anything else, just strictly playing for exercise and fun, but I guess it was 28-30 years ago, we joined the USTA to start playing in their tournaments, and I started playing on a Tupelo team with friends. I made a lot of wonderful, life-long friends from playing there. That part has been really nice.”
In the 1990s, Susan and Phil saw the need for something more in New Albany, but with Susan’s mother falling ill, she chose to step aside while her friends formed the New Albany Tennis Association. Over a decade later, Morris has watched how not only the group has grown, but the sport has also gained much popularity among all age groups.
“Phil kept saying, ‘we need to get some groups here in New Albany. We need to do something so we can have the same advantages as the other towns in the area,’’ Morris said. “The high school kids were having to go out of town for instruction, and there were limited numbers who could afford to do that, but the thought was, if it’s here, it’s a different ball game. So Warner Creekmore and Margaret Maxwell took it from there and formed the New Albany Tennis Association.”
Though she could not help with the formation of the group, Morris and her family found other ways to do their part. All four of the Morris children played tennis in high school and have carried that on to their families.
Showing the credentials of each, 17 of the 19 family members are active players of the sport, and all help on some level. In the last year alone, Morris had four grandchildren on school tennis teams, including her granddaughter, Molly, who was a member of the 2012 state championship team at New Albany. The number of leagues her children run and play in are countless, and the involvement caught the eye of several who nominated the family for the award.
“Everyone has been involved in one way or another, whether it’s been playing on teams or supporting in some way,” Morris said. “My son, Walt, who has had back surgery and was never really able to play, he’s donated money to the park and has come down from Virginia to watch the kids play. Everyone is involved on some level.”
New Albany tennis coach and family friend, Warner Creekmore, was among several who nominated the Morris family for the state award. Receiving that qualified the family for the Mickey McNulty Southern Family of the Year award, given to the most outstanding family in the southern region. Against eight other families, Morris received word in December that her family was selected.
“I was just overwhelmed. It was one thing to receive the award at the state level, but I couldn’t believe out of the nine states and nine families nominated, they chose us,” Morris said.
“While it’s great for us, I was also thinking ‘Wow, this is terrific for New Albany.’ I want everyone to strive for something like this and be proud of what we have here. I see the potential for tennis in this community to be even more than what it is now.”
With the new courts now in place along with a fulltime instructor at BNA Bank Park, tennis is thriving, and Morris could not be more excited to be a part of what is happening in New Albany.
“Because it has grown, we have so many more playing on the high school team. They’ve been allowed to increase their numbers, because we have more courts, and they also see the need for more help, allowing an assistant to work with the team,” Morris said. “Now we have this incredible instructor in Bo Bowman, who the rest of the state, and south, cannot believe that we got him to move to North Mississippi. He was so successful where he was, but he’s here, and he will bring great tennis to this area. He already has.”
As for her family, tennis will continue to be something that brings them together, and Morris could not be any more excited to receive the honors with those closest to her.
“Our family grew from that core of two people that played around with it when we were younger,” she said.
“It’s weird to talk about the things that we’ve done, because it’s all been for enjoyment. We’re being awarded for doing what we love. It’s like icing on the cake. We do all of this, because we love the game and love how it makes us feel. It keeps us young.”
New Albany to receive several USTA awards
Along with the Morris family, New Albany will bring in several awards, including the Community Tennis Association of the Year. Also, the first tournament held on the new courts last June, the BNA Bank Bash, will be awarded the Junior Sanctioned Tournament of the Year by both the Mississippi and Southern USTA.
All of the awards will be handed out in separate ceremonies later this month.