Lake Norman & Mooresville

First Serve gives Mooresville youth their first shot at tennis

Instructor Olivia Archer, right, of the First Serve Foundation, provides instruction to youth from the Winnie Hooper Center.
Instructor Olivia Archer, right, of the First Serve Foundation, provides instruction to youth from the Winnie Hooper Center.

The Winnie L. Hooper Center, a neighborhood institution in Mooresville’s West End apartments, serves about 50 children a day in its summer camp and after school programs. Children from all parts of Mooresville, ages 5-14 years old, enjoy activities that promote education, healthy eating and physical activity.

Indoor activities are held in the center’s recreational room, computer center and library. When the children go outside to play badminton, jump rope, or play baseball with members of the Mooresville police department through the Badges for Baseball program, Winnie Hooper’s adult leaders make the best of the center’s limited outdoor space.

So when opportunities to incorporate off-site recreational activities into the Winnie Hooper program arise, children and staff treat them as special occasions.

In the last two years, the Lake Norman Tennis Center has become one of Winnie Hooper’s valued partners. Shortly after the tennis center opened in 2015, some of its junior players founded the First Serve Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides opportunities to play tennis to underserved populations.

I like hitting the ball and I like all of the strategies.

Jayda Johnson, Mooresville Middle School

Through single day clinics throughout the year and summer weeklong camps, First Serve has welcomed dozens of Winnie Hooper children onto the indoor courts. Youth spend a couple hours each day learning basic tennis strokes, stances and rules.

“I like hitting the ball and I like all of the strategies,” said Jayda Johnson, a Mooresville Middle School seventh-grader. “I do appreciate (participating in First Serve events) because it’s a really good opportunity. I had never thought about playing tennis before and I got to do it.”

Ryan Heider, whose mother Angela owns Lake Norman Tennis Center, was one of First Serve’s founders. As a member of the foundation’s junior board, he helps organize the First Serve camps and clinics and fundraising events to raise money for some of Winnie Hooper’s more advanced players to attend the camps.

“I founded the First Serve Foundation about two years ago with the idea to bring tennis to a lot of kids that didn’t have the opportunity to play it … with the circumstances they were in,” said Ryan Heider. “I really thought I was given a great opportunity when I had a chance to play tennis (growing up) and I thought it would be great … to bring it to a lot of other people.”

Heider contacted Winnie Hooper Center director Barbara Johnson, who is Jayda Johnson’s mother. First Serve Foundation has also welcomed youth from Angels in Need, a non-profit organization in Davidson which supports special needs children.

Barbara Johnson says the thing she appreciates most about First Serve events is that they provide an opportunity for Winnie Hooper’s students to be assisted by other young people.

“It was nice to have another place to go and enjoy recreation, you know, a different sport,” said Johnson. “Tennis is definitely one of those sports that’s hard work. It’s not as easy as they thought.”

Jayda Johnson was impressed with the coaching provided by Olivia Archer, one of First Serve’s founding members. Archer, a Lake Norman Charter School senior, is ranked no. 90 in the country among tennis players in her graduating class by

The Winnie Hooper children may appreciate Archer’s commitment to their cause but the Elon University commitment finds the experience just as rewarding.

“Every time I’m around the kids it’s just amazing, seeing them enjoy themselves,” said Archer. “I enjoy that. It’s like being a teacher. I love seeing that look on their face. I’m sharing something that I love with them.”

This summer, Winnie Hooper’s boys and girls have stayed physically active by visiting the War Memorial outdoor pool once a week. Additionally, the girls have been keeping track of the number of miles they walk between the Center and Magla Park as part of the national GirlTrek initiative.

Joe Habina is a freelance writer:

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