FACES & PLACES: Washington is patron of Chilton County tennis

Editor’s note: This story appeared in The Clanton Advertiser’s annual Faces & Places publication. Copies are still available at the the Advertiser’s office at 1109 Seventh St. N. in Clanton, or you can read the full publication online here.

Perhaps no one has done as much for tennis in Chilton County than Herman Washington.

What, you don’t think that’s saying much? You don’t think tennis means much in a place where football, baseball and even softball rule? Think again.

Chilton County has a rich tennis history, and Washington is a part of most of it.

A native of Baldwin County, Washington began playing at age 12 when a physical education teacher introduced him to the game.

Herman Washington has twice been named United States Professional Tennis Association “Professional of the Year.”

Herman Washington has twice been named United States Professional Tennis Association “Professional of the Year.” (Photo by Jon Goering)

Washington attended Tuskegee University and was a member of the track and field team. His squad sometimes traveled to away competitions with the tennis teams, so during down times, Washington found himself hitting balls with the tennis players. He also played intramural tennis.

“It wasn’t something that I did all the time,” Washington said. He didn’t know yet that the sport would become a focus of his life.

Washington later taught tennis in Florida, and while employed in the Chilton County School System, he wrote grants for the Chilton County Tennis Association.

He and others offered clinics two days a week at the Clanton City Park courts. Students at the old Adair school could take 10 weeks of tennis for $5 each. The program was later extended to include Verbena School.

Washington also organized an annual tournament tied to Chilton County’s Peach Festival for 25 years. The last tournament was held in 2007.

In 1987 and 1997, Washington was selected as the United States Professional Tennis Association’s “Professional of the Year” in Alabama. In 1993, he received the United States Tennis Association’s “Southern Section Volunteer Award.”

Washington retired from the school system in 2004. Now he gives individualized lessons while continuing to promote the sport.

“I’m happy about the cross-section of people,” he said about his pupils. “I have college kids, tots—all ages.

“When I take on a young kid, I try to get them to become a student of the game. I want them to enjoy watching it even if they never become a pro.”

Under Washington’s guidance, Chilton County High School started a tennis program less than 10 years ago. The boys team now has a state tournament appearance under its belt, and one of the girls team’s most promising players—Ada Ruth Huntley, who plays in the No. 1 position despite having yet to walk the high school’s hallways as a rising freshman—is a Washington protege.

Washington also helps Jemison’s program, which is more established, having won three state championships.

Whoever he’s coaching, Washington wants to see them win.

“I give people the impression that I’m nice and cool, but beneath that, I want to see some results,” he said. “I know what it takes to win: You have to have that killer instinct.”

 

While his students obviously benefit, Washington said coaching is rewarding for him also.

“There are great health benefits,” said the 77-year-old. “I’m rewarded because I used to run track, but I don’t like to run anymore. This makes me run.”

But more than anything, Washington wants to see tennis offer opportunities to local youths, like it has for him, he and his wife Olivia’s three children, and many others.

“The greatest thing I’ve done, I’ve encouraged young pros,” Washington said. “I have players scattered all over the country and all over the world. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

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