A passion for tennis and kids<br><i>At 67, Beverly Coleman is still going strong teaching live's lessons through sports</i>

Staff photo by Eric Lusk

During her playing days, Coleman was a top junior champion and was nationally ranked on the USTA Woman's Senior Circuit. Now, she's giving back via the Beverly Coleman Tennis Academy, which hsa plans to expand into cottonwood, Camp Verde, Clarkdale and the Yavapai-Apache Nation this summer.

Visit Camp Verde schools to drum up interest in the sport, possibly enough to help start a full-blown tennis team at the high school in the fall.

Take photos of the courts in Camp Verde (at the schools and at Butler Park) and say thanks to those who have pledged to build or renovate more courts for the town.

After lunch, jet up Highway 260 to deliver more flyers to schools and to promote summer programs being sponsored by the Cottonwood Parks and Recreation Department.

Then at 2:30 p.m., it’s off to meet with Cottonwood recreation officials to shore up how best to promote the town’s tennis programs and get kids in the upper Verde Valley signed up.

She had hoped to stop by the Cottonwood Tennis Center to clean up the small tennis office, but alas she runs out of time. There’s always tomorrow, however.

" I owe a lot to tennis," the 67-year-old says with a smile. "But I didn’t know I was going to pay back like this."

For the past eight years, Coleman has been paying back to her lifetime sports love through the Beverly Coleman Tennis Academy.

This summer, with non-profit status now secured, she’s expanding that academy from its base in Sedona and Village of Oak Creek to encompass the entire Verde Valley – Cottonwood, Camp Verde, Clarkdale, the Yavapai-Apache Nation, even special outreaches to Spanish-speaking youth.

Hence, all of her recent travels to schools and recreation entities.

"I’m not in this for myself," she says. "My passion is to make a contribution that supercedes the sport."

The main goal of Coleman’s academy can be found at the top of her Web site (www.sedonatennis.com) and on much of the literature she distributes – "friendships, fun, fitness and creative learning through tennis."

Right now, she has about 40-50 kids involved. She started with just two when Sedona city clerk Marie Brown talked her into leading some tennis activities for the general public.

Coleman’s approach to tennis may be different than others because of where she first started playing – inner city public courts in Los Angeles. A neighbor of Japanese descent first invited her to serve and volley at age 10, and she’s been hooked ever since.

To Coleman, tennis isn’t an activity that should be limited to country clubs. That has never been her experience, which is why, for instance, her heart goes out to the curious Spanish speaking youth who have peered through fences to watch her clinics and classes.

"I like clubs, and I enjoyed the Sedona Racquet Club when I first came here," she said. "But the clubs cut off the participation of those who can’t afford the club or don’t want the social extras that go along with it.

"We have to have public tennis. That’s why tennis fell down in this country – it had become just for the rich."

Coleman remembers watching players of all ethnic backgrounds "play for joy" on the public courts in LA. They weren’t worried about social status but instead competed for the thrill of the game and the lively interaction with neighbors.

During her junior career, she played alongside greats like Poncho Gonzalez and Althea Gibson. She went on tour with Arthur Ashe. She also remembers well being a hitting partner for both Venus and Serena Williams when they were first starting out.

"They knocked the racquet out of my hand even at that age," Coleman said. "They had such respect – that’s why so many people helped them. They always called me Ms. Coleman and would walk me to my car and say, ‘Thanks for your time.’

"I don’t feel like I played a major role but it’s rewarding because they used to play on ragged courts. It’s a story of community pride. It’s inspiring."

It’s story Coleman also believes can be written here in the Verde Valley/Sedona area.

Coleman calls her approach to teaching tennis "accelerated learning."

For the younger players she will incorporate aspects of several sports to help them gain a feel for the basics – handball to simulate swinging the racquet, volleyball to teach overhead hitting, soccer scrimmages to practice footwork, Frisbee-throwing to learn the backhand, etc.

It’s certainly not as dull as standing in front of a ball machine hour after hour.

"Tennis takes two years to learn," Coleman says. "(With this method) they have fun while they play, and they can still learn the basics."

Once the players grasp the fundamentals, they may move on to the more competitive aspect of her academy. This usually includes playing in tournaments and sanctioned events. Coleman also asks that these players give back to those coming along behind them.

"He who learns must also teach," she says.

Theresa Ney, who attends Sedona Red Rock High School, was one of Coleman’s first students. She started when she was 9, Coleman said. This past spring, playing for the Scorpions, she advanced to the state finals in singles at the Class 3A level.

Other Scorpion players who have worked with Coleman over the years include Keely Badger, Andrew Cecere and John Cecere. "They are now standouts on the high school team," she said.

Coleman thought she had left tennis behind when she moved to Sedona nearly a decade ago.

She was once the American Tennis Association’s junior national runner-up. As a player on the USTA Women’s Senior Circuit she earned a No. 4 ranking in all of Southern California.

At the 1990 national tournament, she was ranked No. 34 in 55s singles and No. 14 in 55s doubles.

She is a licensed acupuncturist, herbalist and nutritionist. She has a Master’s in public health (behavioral science/health education/gerontology) from UCLA and another Master’s in traditional Chinese medicine from Emperor’s College in California.

This is where she had originally planned to spend much of her time after moving to Red Rock country. But tennis kept calling, and she answered with gusto. These days, she may be putting in more hours on the courts — and behind the scenes — than ever.

"I just work at it day and night," Coleman said. "I’m trying to get it so that it will outlive me."


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