Turpin, Brown Show Off Their Junior Potential

By John Packett, RTA Contributing Writer

Turpin, Brown Show Off Their Junior Potential

RICHMOND– Battery Park and the North Side of Richmond have historically produced a steady stream of African-American tennis players.

Junie Chatman, Rodney and Marell Harmon, Rozzell Lightfoot and Leonard Booker are some names that come to mind.

While those days are long gone, the Richmond Tennis Association is aiming to change that by bringing clinics and the Quick Start game for kids to Battery Park and other locations.

This opportunity will give the more talented and interested children a chance to continue to play and learn.

Former President of the RTA Fred Bruner said the clinic will help the kids develop their tennis game.

“We can’t create an Arthur Ashe,” Bruner said. “Arthur Ashe has to be born. But we can certainly give kids an opportunity to change their lives by becoming good high school and maybe college players.”

Ashe is a Richmond native who won three Grand Slam titles. He was the first African American player to win the US Open, Australian Open and Wimbledon.

Bruner said the clinic will help the kids even if they pursue other sports or hobbies.

“The more kids who get exposed to tennis [the better],” Bruner said. “Tennis is a sport that requires self-discipline and willpower in order to just be able to play the game.

Those are the attributes that have been proven to be some of the most significant things in life … the kind of things that make a difference in life.”

Nayla Turpin and Makkijha Brown are two juniors who have improved under the RTA.

Nayla, 13, first became interested in tennis when she attended a clinic at Byrd Park at age seven.

Jimmy Turpin, a former basketball player at John Marshall High School and Virginia State University, said tennis came naturally to Nayla.

“They started off the summer with about 30 kids,” Turpin said. “She went every day and by the end of the summer there were one or two kids left, and she was one of them.”

Nayla said several aspects of the game appealed to her.

“I think it was the competitiveness and meeting people,” said Nayla, an eighth-grader at Lucille Brown Middle School. “And just being out there, in general, was a lot of fun.”

Nayla has been taking lessons for the past year from Janet Fleishman, a teaching pro at Raintree Swim and Racquet Club, and winner of the past three city women’s singles championships.

“We have connected very well and she’s very supportive of my tennis and even myself,” Nayla said. “She’s always been there for me.”

With her game improving, Nayla will attend Steward School in the fall and is expected to play somewhere in the starting lineup. She has consistently been ranked in the top 100 of three age groups, the 12s, 14s and 16s.

“I just want to make the team next year,” Nayla said. “Travel with them and maybe win the state.”

As far as college goes, Nayla already has some schools in mind.

“I would like to go to William and Mary or Yale,” Nayla said.

Makkijha, 14, became interested in tennis when he tagged along to a camp with his older sister, Zoey.

Frank Brown, Makkijha’s father, said Makkijha couldn’t sit still when he watched other players on the court.

“Makkijha picked up a racket and was like ‘Hey, can I join in?” Brown said. “When he joined in, they saw that he kind of had some potential.”

Makkijha showed off that same potential when he played in National Tennis Day activities at Battery Park. He caught the eyes of Fred Bruner, Shima Grover and Katrina Adams, a past president of the United States Tennis Association.

Makkijha was only eight or nine years old at the time, but it was obvious that tennis, not basketball, was his sport.

“I used to watch my sister play a lot and it really looked interesting to me,” Makkijha, who is homeschooled, said. “I liked the scoring aspect. And the game itself.

“It’s kind of fun being by yourself. In singles, you’re able to control the point, control what you’re doing and make adjustments on how you are playing and how your opponent is playing. You’re able to focus a lot better [by yourself].”

As for choosing tennis over basketball, Makkijha said he felt more motivated on the tennis court.

“I felt that tennis would be a more challenging and more inspiring sport than basketball,”  Makkijha said.

Makkijha was the recipient of the 2017 Greg Semon Enthusiasm for the Game award, presented by the RTA in February.

Coach Jamie Morgan said Makkijha is special to work with. Morgan has coached Makkijha for several years.

“His love for the game and work ethic is inspiring for those players, as well as for the coaches, who have had the pleasure of working with him,” said Morgan.

Morgan, formerly an assistant coach at the University of Richmond, lives in Winchester now. Makkijha makes the three-hour ride from Richmond with his father to continue the lessons.

Fred Bruner said Turpin and Brown are examples of what the RTA hopes will be another generation of strong African-American players.

“If you’re going to attract kids to a game, they have to see success,” said Bruner. “If you have a kid like Makkijha or a kid like Nayla doing very well, the kids at Battery Park, Byrd Park or Westover see them playing and competing.”