She started playing when she joined MACH Academy’s after- school tennis program in 1997.
Connections she made through the program helped her receive a scholarship to Tuskeegee University, where she is now a fifth-year graduate student earning a masters in occupational therapy.
Her success story is one of many from a program that started 20 years ago to teach tennis to children.
MACH Academy started with three friends who worked together and met at May Park to play tennis.
“(They) realized that a lot of the kids (they) were attracting needed other support, the academic support. They needed the social skills,” said executive director Betty Jones.
MACH Academy, which stands for Mentoring, Academics, Computers, Healthy Recreation, has grown into a program that goes beyond tennis to help steer students toward college.
Tutoring and test preparation are offered through the after-school program, and high school students are offered career exploration and help with preparing college and scholarship applications.
“We use tennis as a hook to get their attention, but also to let them know that this is another arena for potential scholarships that are out there that sometimes go untapped,” Jones.
The after-school program can is broken into sessions that focus on academics, life skills, fitness or character education. In the evenings, students move out to the courts.
Scott, 22, started in the program in 1997 and participated mostly in the tennis program.
She often tutored younger students. In 2010, she spent the summer working with a second grader who had failed math three times.
“I think his big sister told me he passed after that,” she said. “It made me feel good.”
Scott went on to earn a full tennis scholarship.
Elysia Ortiz, 19, is a sophomore at Florida A&M University who is also on a full tennis scholarship.
She said her training at MACH Academy not only helped her choose a career field, it is helping her get there.
A few years ago she broke her wrist playing in a tennis tournament. After surgery and a year in physical therapy, she decided she wanted to become a physical therapist.
Then her MACH Academy coach introduced her to the coach at Florida A&M.
“Being part of the program, you get a lot of opportunities to meet different people,” Ortiz said. “I met her, and that in turn helped me with my tennis scholarship.”
Jonathan Dingle, 19, is on a partial tennis scholarship at Prairie View A&M University.
A former Aiken resident, Dingle attended MACH’s tennis classes on Saturdays and sometimes found homework help there when he needed it.
He said he learned life lessons, such as how to carry himself in public and how to conduct himself during a media interview, in addition to tennis.
The program taught him discipline, which was instrumental to his success in academics.
“Tennis is a really demanding sport and it requires you to be disciplined,’’ Dingle said. ‘‘I believe if you are disciplined in one thing you learn to be disciplined in other aspects of your life.”
MACH Academy is open year round, and scholarships are available to anyone who qualifies. For more information on the program, call (706) 796-5046.