When James Ewers convinced his father to get him tennis balls and a racket so he could practice at the courts at the old Skyland Elementary School, he never imagined that he’d someday break tennis records, win championships, meet celebrities and, as of last week, have tennis courts named in his honor.
“To see this now resulting in tennis courts being named in my honor is just unreal,” Ewers said Friday after the dedication ceremony for the “Dr. James B. Ewers Jr. Tennis Courts” at Atkins Academic & Technology High School on Old Greensboro Road.
Ewers is an alumnus of the original Atkins High on Cameron Drive. He was a tennis champion there and earned a four-year tennis scholarship to Johnson C. Smith University, where he holds the school record of 34 consecutive singles victories.
Ewers said he first picked up a racket to break from the norm.
“I didn’t see a lot of people in my neighborhood playing tennis,” he said. “Everybody in my neighborhood played football and basketball. I just wanted to try something different, do something different.”
Over the course of his three-decade tennis career, he has won local, state and national titles and rubbed shoulders with celebrities like Bill Cosby, Earl “The Pearl” Monroe and Muhammed Ali.
“I never asked the Lord to let me win,” he said. “I asked Him to let me do my best.”
The 64-year-old still plays tennis for fun, but much of his time is devoted to his other passion: education. The former public school teacher is now the vice president for student affairs and enrollment management at Edward Waters College, a private Jackonsville, Fla.-based historically black school.
Bill McClain, Ewers’ lifelong friend, was on hand for the ceremony. McClain said Ewers’ long career in education and accomplishments in sports make him the perfect inspiration for young people. He brought youth from the Goler Institute for Development and Education (GIDE) Youth Education Academy after school program, which he directs, to take part in the ceremony. The kids helped to read Ewers’ long list of tennis accomplishments.
“I know a lot of athletes in different sports, but I don’t know of anyone who revolutionized tennis in our community the way he did,” said McClain, who suggested to the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School Board that Atkins courts be named for Ewers. “Tennis was a non-sport in our community … we didn’t know any successful tennis players back in the day, not like him, so he actually brought it to the forefront of our consciousness.”
Also in attendance were members of the Atkins Women’s Tennis Team, who regularly use the courts. Tennis Coach Amanda Cook said that though the team, whose season recently ended, has been in existence for three years, it has just recently begun to win matches. This past season, the team ranked second in its conference, making it to the first round of regional team playoffs. Atkins Freshman Makeena Mason made it the regional singles playoffs.
Cook said that having Ewers’ name on the court will help inspire her players.
“It’s a very good choice, and I think it’s a lot to live up to,” she said. “I think it’ll be a good role model and message for our players out here to have his name on our courts.”
Ayla Sherrill, a sophomore who just completed her second year on the tennis team, hopes that playing under Dr. Ewers’ illustrious name will bring the team luck.
“I’m proud to have our court named after somebody who’s got so much experience with tennis and so many other accomplishments,” she said.
Atkins’ new Men’s Tennis Team, which was founded in the Spring, will also use the courts as well.