For first-year Elkin Middle School tennis coach Jeremiah Morrison, tennis has been important for a long time.
“My grandpa gave me my first tennis racket at age 5,” Morrison said. “I just loved being out with him.”
Morrison’s grandmother, Chrisella Morrison, died that year. Playing tennis with his grandfather, Melvin Morrison, was good therapy for both of them.
Morrison put tennis aside two years later, but picked it up again at age 11 after seeing Jonathan Walker play at Elkin. He started taking lessons from Jack Jernigan.
“That’s what really got me into it,” Morrison said. “It became my love. That and basketball.”
Morrison’s freshman year he played at No. 7 for Elkin, playing doubles with Richard Gwyn. His sophomore year he moved from No. 6 to No. 5. “It was a mediocre year,” he said.
But between a growth spurt and leaning footwork from Elkin Coach Tony Duncan, Morrison began to realize his potential his junior year. Playing at No. 4, Morrison went 21-0 in the regular season and didn’t lose until he played Elkin’s No. 1, Tyler Macy, in the conference tournament.
He would lose only two matches his senior season playing at No. 3, pairing with current Elkin senior David Bullin in doubles.
“I loved every minute playing under Tony Duncan,” Morrison said. “He forced me to start moving my feet. I went from being not at the top to all-conference, all-regional, all-state.
“Coach Duncan has a way with players. He doesn’t have to yell at you.”
It also took dedication on Morrison’s part.
“It takes time and effort,” he said. “You aren’t going to be great just playing on weekends.”
Beyond the time, effort and learning from Duncan, Morrison learned from his teammates as well. From Bullin, he learned even more footwork. “David’s footwork is amazing,” Morrison said. “I’m looking at him and thinking, ‘he’s moving his feet, so I got to move mine.’”
From Tyler Macy, Morrison said he learned aggression. “Being aggressive is good,” Morrison said. “Being very aggressive is better than not being aggressive at all.”
From current Elkin junior Ryan Schell — only a freshman when Morrison was a senior — Morrison said he learned “level-headedness; to stay calm under all circumstances. I’ve watched him battle from down 5-0 and win seven straight games.
“His highs aren’t high and his lows aren’t low.”
From current Elkin senior Chad Vestal, Morrison said he learned that it’s “always good to take a break.” That it was not a bad thing “to just set it down.”
Tennis wasn’t the only sport where Morrison showed marked improvement. In seventh through 10th grade, Morrison didn’t make the basketball team at Elkin Middle School or Elkin High School.
He made varsity his junior year, playing about three minutes per game at the beginning of the season and about 10 minutes per game at the end off the season. Morrison credited the footwork he learned in tennis for his improvement.
He made honorable mention all-conference his senior year.
“That was just a dedication thing,” Morrison said. “I was more composed after playing tennis. You get rattled, you’re done. You just got to be level-headed.
“You can take all of this and apply it to life.”
The opportunity to coach tennis came early for Morrison. He is just 19.
“I was sitting at the house one day,” he said. “My mom said they were looking for a coach for the middle school. I said, ‘That sounds like something I could do.’”
Mom is Casey Morrison, the assistant principal and transportation director at Elkin High School.
“My biggest thing is wanting to make an impact,” he said. “I really did it to change some kids’ perspective.
“In middle school, you have kids who can be there part of the time,” he continued. “You’re not 100 percent committed. But I’m seeing more dedication and commitment from a few of them.”
Bianca Soos is one of those players who Morrison says is demonstrating dedication and commitment.
“She’s very dedicated,” Morrison said. “Today, we had two players show up. I said, ‘All right, you can go home if you want to.’ She says, ‘No, let’s hit. Let’s hit.’”
Ryan Macy is the most accomplished of Elkin’s middle school team. “His playing helps the confidence of everyone around him,” Morrison said. “Bianca is developing just playing with him.
“They are developing at an extraordinary rate.”
Although they have some success through five matches this spring, Morrison said it is not about the team’s record.
“I look for development,” he said. “I could care less whether we win or lose. At the end of the day, I just want them to develop.”
There are two boys and five girls on the team.
The second boy is Holt Jackson. “Holt’s one of the reasons I want to come out every day,” Morrison said. “One day I said, ‘Holt, if you hit it in the net, you’re going to run laps.’ He looks at me and hits the ball into the net on purpose and says ‘OK.’
“There’s never a day when he complains.”
Morrison is attending Surry Community College where he will pick up a two-year degree in business. He also is continuing to work on his game in hopes of playing tennis “somewhere” as a junior and senior.
When the education is complete, he’d like to start his own business — maybe “something to do with tennis; a store somewhere closer than Winston.”
Morrison envisions being able to sponsor local tennis players and being a part of a community that supports tennis.
He’d like to continue coaching middle-school tennis, but he knows if he gets an opportunity to play tennis or further his education — coaching next year at the middle school won’t be possible.
Even though he wouldn’t be coaching, he said it will still benefit the Elkin tennis community. “If I’m learning more,” he said, “I can teach them more.”
Elkin High assistant coach Pam Fencl wants Morrison to come back and be the high school coach at Elkin. “He’s a great kid,” she said. “He’s a well-rounded kid. He gets along with everybody.”
East Wilkes Coach Aaron Simmons, who gave Morrison lessons when he was younger, said “super enthusiasm” and “a great charisma” come to mind when thinks of Morrison. “People just love that about Jeremiah,” Simmons said. “He’s respected at Elkin and East Wilkes.
“He’s an asset to the community and to the tennis community.”
Jim Fuller may be reached at 336-835-1513 or on Twitter @elkinareasports.