It’s 5:47 a.m. on what will be another scorching summer day, but for some crazy reason there’s a flurry of activity on the Amphi High School tennis courts. At the center of it all is a stud athlete who was born in Scotland when Harry Truman was President of the United States.
This story actually begins with Yousef. Born in Sudan, he and his family had to pass through Eritrea before finally arriving in the United States. Outgoing, almost too smart and endlessly curious, he is ranked third in his class academically and is also an exceptional multi-sport athlete.
Yousef adopted the oft-given (but rarely taken to heart) advice to do high school stuff when you’re in high school. The four years will pass quickly and when they are over you will be old for the rest of your life. To go along with his academic pursuits and various extracurricular activities, he decided he wanted to try as many sports as possible while in high school. He’s an all-southern Arizona football player, but he’s also dabbled in basketball and cross country. In the spring of 2020, he was on the baseball team when the sport (and the world) was shut down by COVID.
Last year he decided to try tennis. It went from zero to pretty good in a few weeks. But once you get a little good, you want to be really good, and that’s where hard work and heartbreak become permanent parts of the equation. With a short roster, Yousef quickly became the team’s No. 1 player, which meant he had to face Sahuaro’s best player on Tuesday and then Canyon Del Oro’s best on Thursday. It wasn’t fun, but it was educational.
He realized that the whuppins were probably going to keep coming, but he wanted to do whatever he could in the short term to make them a little less one-sided. The two-and-a-half-hour afternoon workouts weren’t enough, so with the number of hours of sunshine increasing as the spring season moved into summer, he decided to show up in school courts at sunrise for work. on his groundstrokes and serve. He was surprised to find that he was not alone.
Yousef recalls, “I arrived one morning around 6 a.m. and there was already this woman hitting the ball against the wall.”
They exchanged hellos, but that was it. Yousef went to another punching wall and got to work. But she was there again the next morning and the morning after. Pretty soon they started talking and then they both started working on improving his game.
“I was really surprised,” Yousef says. “She knows so much about tennis and I was surprised she was so good…” Her voice trails off. Her attempt to fix it resulted in “She has a lot of gray hair”.
He told his friends – some on the tennis team, some not – and very soon the membership of the Unofficial Early Morning Tennis Club had reached a significant figure. (Anyone who thinks today’s high school kids are just TikTok-ing their lives must be impressed by kids getting up at 5:30 a.m. so they can work 90-120 minutes on their game before school starts.)
Even after the school season ended, they kept showing up – Yousef and Yoshi, Isaac and Leilani. They do it because they want to be really good next year, but they also feel they owe a debt of gratitude to the Haired Lady, the person who stifled Yousef’s concentration and helped convince Yoshi to going out for the tennis team. Next year.
After Yousef told me the story, I decided to see for myself. And so I showed up a few minutes after dawn to watch the show. And there she was with wild gray hair in the style of Rosanne Rosannadanna. (Goog it.)
She was an absolute whirlwind of activity, showing an elementary kid how to serve and then another beginner kid how to hold a racquet. Leilani and Yoshi wanted to play doubles, so the Lady teamed up with a friend of hers named Marvin (who, in fact, was named after Marvin Gaye, making him the coolest guy in all of Tucson).
I told her that I would like to write about her, but she firmly refused. She said it was all about the kids. It doesn’t matter that she’s out there at dawn playing the game she’s loved all her life. What’s impressive are the young people who defy the conventions of summer holidays.
It is therefore not about the astonishing woman who will remain nameless. But it’s kind of.