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Griffith and tennis alumni share game in Haiti

Tuesday, September 06, 2011
by Mark McGee

Tennis is usually associated with country clubs featuring pristine courts, but on the economically ravaged island of Haiti tennis has a much different look.

Dr. Lynn Griffith, former Lipscomb tennis coach now serving as a professor in the kinesiology department, was joined by former Bisons tennis player Andy Mizell and Julianne McMeen, a former member of the Lady Bisons tennis team, on a trip to Haiti to teach and minister to those in need. They were part of a mission trip from Hillsboro Church of Christ to Cap-Haitien.

The trio held two clinics a day for four days. Separate sessions were held for beginners and advanced players. Griffith and his players first taught tennis clinics in Haiti in 2008. Haiti has a special place in Griffith’s heart and mind. His first visit was in 2002 and he has made 19 trips overall.

“The advanced kids were beginners in 2008 and some of them have developed into pretty good players,” Griffith said. “Two of the kids in Cap-Haitien are ranked No.1 in their age groups.  They are progressing and getting better and showing they can play the game.

“They also had a couple of other kids with national rankings, but we have to remember that Haiti is not as large as the state of Tennessee as far as population. But still it is nice to see that they are progressing.”

The clinics attracted 20 participants. The city has 250,000 residents but only has three tennis courts scattered around town.

Equipment is also scarce. Griffith brought three cases of used tennis balls and McMeen was able to obtain several rackets from the String N’ Swing tennis shop. Andrew Harris, Lipscomb’s tennis coach for both the men’s and women’s teams provided shirts for the clinic participants.

“We give them an opportunity to experience a higher level of coaching, not only for the kids but for the coaches,” Griffith said. “I would like to see if maybe we could get every Lipscomb player to visit Haiti at least one time.”

The clinic also attracted interest from Haitian television. Mizell served as the interpreter.

“We just thought it would be a little blurb during the sports segment of the news,” Griffith said. “But they ran 30 minutes of us doing drills. They set it to music and then added the interviews.”

Mizell is no stranger to Haiti. His first trip was in March 2008 with Griffith.

“He brought Lipscomb tennis players to coach tennis and help out at a local orphanage,” Mizell said. “I’ve been three other times since then, but not to coach tennis.

“This past trip in July was the first time I had been to Haiti since July of 2009, and this time, I got to coach tennis again.  I was very excited to finally get the opportunity to do that.”

Mizell agreed with Griffith that there are talented players who persevere despite the lack of money for equipment and adequate facilities.

“There is so much talent over there but no opportunity,” Mizell said. “It is unbelievable to see these kids come out and play so hard when they do not even have water with them.  We provide them with most of their rackets and almost all of their tennis balls.  Hopefully, in the future, we can really do something for those kids that have so much talent in tennis.”

For McMeen the trip meant far more than simply teaching tennis.

“Coaching tennis in Haiti was one of the most rewarding experiences in my life,” McMeen said. “I know we were there to help them but I have the feeling they changed my life more than I changed theirs.

“There were a lot of kids there that were definitely athletically gifted and if given the same resources as American kids would play college tennis. It was rewarding coaching kids with the eagerness to listen and work ethic they displayed. It was an amazing experience.”

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