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Years of Preparation Brings High Fives to Rome

August 13, 2017 01:55 AM

Story and photos by Ron Cioffi/USTA Southern

Leo Nedkov returns a shot Saturday. Below, Dana Forsyth is among her team with matching shirts.
Forsyth and her players in their "younger" days, below. Photo was taken at the 2014 Tennessee State Championships.

Why is the Tennessee 12 Intermediate team called the High Fives? “When I started the team, I talked about high-fiving,” said captain Dana Forsyth.

“There are two types of hi-fives. There is a high-five after you lose a point and after you win a point. The high-five after losing is an encouraging high-five. The high-five after winning is a celebrating high-five,” she explained.

That was four years ago and the core of the team is from the Cedar Bluff Racquet Club in Knoxville. A few players have came from the Knoxville Racquet Club in the last year. That means this team of 12-and-unders first began their team when they were seven and eight.

Forsyth has built the team around a few basic principles taught by this longtime coach and great-grandmother.

An old-school tennis player and teacher who started with “wood racquets and white balls,” Forsyth modeled her game on Chris Evert and others who used variety to succeed. She has worked to instill these skills in her youngsters.

Pauline Schneiter said she prefers to play mixed doubles and is considered the team’s expert in closing out a match on the last court. She likes the challenge of playing against boys.

Ben Snyder says he is a volley specialist. “I like to play the net because it offers me a lot more opportunities.”

“I start them at the net and let them grow together with an all-court game. Drop shots and lobs,” the coach added. Her charges said they had been taught to communicate after every point in doubles, often giving behind-the-back signals.

One new player has had the most tournament success is Leo Nedkov. The team’s boys’ singles player won 10 and under doubles in the Kentucky Junior Indoor Open, along with going deep in a number of other Tennessee events this year. “I practice every day except Sunday,” he added.

Forsyth proudly remarked that her family has five ethnic backgrounds, including African-American, Native American, Asian and Jewish. For instance, Nedkov’s parents are from Ecuador and Bulgaria.

Family diversity is another hallmark of Forsyth, who reached top rankings in USTA Southern in her 35s and other age groups. Three of her children played in USTA national junior championships and college tennis. One of these is her adopted daughter, Tse Lan Lee Kunian, who is now the executive director of the Georgia Tennis Foundation.

Most importantly, Forsyth has made a career on teaching tennis to kids and adults with one goal of making long-time tennis friendships that are as well-rounded as their tennis skills.