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St. George Man Becomes 'Mr. Tennis'

October 28, 2013 11:56 AM

Jonathon Braden |

He showed up as an inquisitive uncle registering his nephew for tennis.

More than two years later, Daniel Walters has helped expand the St. George Youth Sports League, coach dozens of junior tennis players and start a USTA flex league for adults in his hometown.

Daniel Walters and Barbara Jones

He’s also earned a statewide award: Walters is the 2013 USTA South Carolina recipient of the USTA Southern State Volunteer Service Award.

The annual USTA Southern honor is given to one volunteer in each of the section’s nine states. The recipient is chosen by the respective state’s USTA executive director.

USTA SC Executive Director Graham Cox said Walters’ willingness to get more and more involved with tennis in St. George has impressed him.

“Volunteering for the St. George Youth Sports League is a part of Daniel's life,” Cox said, “not just something he carves time out from his life to do as goodwill.”

Just a couple years ago, though, Walters, now 27, had nothing to do with the sports league.

He had first played tennis only about five years earlier.

But in spring 2011, he agreed to take his 10-year-old nephew to register for junior tennis during an event at St. George Middle School. At the most, Walters thought, his nephew could enjoy the sport.

By the end of the night, Walters had heard from two St. George tennis leaders and the town’s mayor about how he should get more involved. He agreed to attend a junior tennis coaching workshop.

From there, he helped coach junior team tennis, run an after-school program and a summer tennis camp for kids.

“I love teaching them tennis because I think it builds the character and the personalities and the sportsmanship,” Walters said.

He also has grown the game with adults.

Walters helped organize a teaching clinic for beginners and later started a USTA flex league, which lets individuals schedule matches when and where it’s most convenient for them.

He initially accepted more responsibilities because of the progress he already saw, thanks to Barbara Jones, president of the St. George Community Tennis Association, and others.

The two weed-filled courts in town had been resurfaced; new bushes had been planted around the courts and a new chain-link fence had been installed around the property.

“(Jones) told me that the dream was even bigger than that,” Walters said.

Jones remembers answering a lot of questions from Walters that first night.

What would the kids do during Jr. Team Tennis? What would they learn? How did St. George work with the USTA?

“The fact that we had connections to a larger organization (rather) than just a handful of people in St. George gave it more authenticity and credibility,” she said.

These days, she’s the one asking Walters the questions, as in can you help out with this event? And she regularly hears a “yes.”

“He’s just Mr. Tennis,” Jones said.

Walters also helps kids away from the courts.

Missy Beard, who has a 17-year-old son and a 10-year-old daughter, said the kids feel free to talk with Walters about things they might not always discuss with their parents. And, she said, parents like knowing another trustworthy adult is there for their children.

Walters also has helped his family become more involved with tennis.

At last Saturday’s “Pumpkin Match,” the annual junior tournament in St. George, his mother organized a cake walk fundraiser and baked a seven-layer chocolate cake for the event.

His grandmother also made a butter pecan cake.

Walters’ nephew still plays, too, including twice a week with the St. George Jr. Team Tennis program.

“I just never expected to be this” involved, Walters said. “Now, obviously, it’s become such a passion of mine that I can’t imagine walking away.”