Making a difference

Tournament inspires Sarah Broom to work with Chastain to improve the school’s tennis program.

Sarah Broom went to a tennis tournament at the River Hills Club hoping to take in some matches and watch future stars battle it out before they make it big in the Women’s Tennis Association. 

Never did she think that by going to the event, she would have an impact on Jackson’s next generation of tennis players.

But after talking with Janelle Griffin, head tennis coach at Chastain Middle School, she decided it was time to step in and make a difference.

“We met and we talked, and she told me how bad the courts were and it was something that interested me,” she said. “I thought it was something I could do that would have an impact on Jackson and on children.”

More than a year and a half later, the retired pulmonologist has helped set up a new nonprofit to benefit the school’s athletic programs, she’s also helped the school obtain a grant to make temporary fixes to Chastain’s tennis courts.

“I told her a lot of kids were interested in learning the game. However, the courts were so bad they were not fit to play on or to teach on,” Griffin said. “That’s when we started conversating.

“Sarah said she would like to see if she could help me and get some people who could assist. That happened the earlier part of this year.”

Efforts have begun to pay off. 

Recently, all three of the courts at the Manhattan Road public school were overlaid with a fresh coat of asphalt. This week, workers were expected to line the courts with fresh paint. And with the help of Jackson Public Schools (JPS) new poles and netting for the courts were on the way.

Broom said the improvements come thanks to donations, as well as a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) grant, which the school was able to obtain with letters of support from the Community Foundation for Mississippi, JPS Superintendent Errick Greene and Ward Three Councilman Kenneth Stokes.

Donations have also come from the River Hills community, Overkil Tennis and from other Northsiders, in the form of cash, used tennis rackets, tennis balls, paint and other items. 

Even so, Broom and Griffin say much more work is needed. The fencing surrounding the courts is falling down. Additionally, there are still uneven spots on the play surface that need to be filled in.

Students are already taking notice, and looking forward to joining the tennis team and using the courts for practice.

“Every sixth-grader wants to be on the tennis team,” Griffin said as she volleyed a tennis ball back and forth with Richard McKey, Broom’s husband.

For his part, McKey did much of the physical work - applying the asphalt, picking up materials and the like.

Broom is a graduate of St. Joseph Catholic School, Duke University and the University of Mississippi Medical Center. She is board-certified in internal medicine and pulmonary diseases.

Broom picked up tennis after college and realized it was a “great way to do something healthy, make friends and have a social network.”

She believes children can benefit from the sport because, unlike football, they can play it throughout most stages of life.

Griffin, a JPS graduate, is a self-taught tennis player who began playing at around 10 years old. At that time, she and her sisters lived across the street from Rowan Middle School and they would often use the courts to practice after school hours.

She and her older sister both won the “Capital Eight,” the district’s junior high championship. She later went on to win multiple state titles while at Wingfield High.

“I won the title each year there,” she said. After high school, Griffin joined the U.S. Air Force, where she played in an adult league while stationed at Andrews Air Force Base.

After the military, she and a fellow athlete in Washington, D.C., began a tennis instructional business called Tiny Tots Tennis. After three years, she returned home, where she started the Fun-da-mentors Tennis, to help teach the sport to inner-city youth.

She joined Chastain in 2013 and took over full-time coaching after the previous coach retired.

Griffin recalls meeting Broom at the Challenger tourney, and telling her about the condition of Chastain’s courts.

“We decided to start contacting community members, and we met with Jane Alexander, who agreed to allow us to set up an account under their umbrella,” she said.

Alexander is president and chief executive officer of the Community Foundation. Those interested can donate to the Chastain Middle School Athletic Fund.

In addition to the CDC grant, the group has raised about $2,700. All of that has been spent on the initial round of improvements.

“It’s been enough to make the courts playable and buy racquets,” Broom said. “We received a number of racquets through donations and Overkil Tennis at Parham Bridges has restrung the ones that needed it,” she said.

Broom said she hopes to raise $20,000, which could completely rebuild the courts.

She and Griffin plan to set up fund-raisers and reach out to Chastain alumni for additional assistance.

“Re-doing the courts is extremely expensive. We have definitely done some patchwork,” Broom said. “We’re still reaching out to people who are interested in tennis and willing to help.” 

For more information, call the Community Foundation for Mississippi at (601) 974-6044.

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