Winston-Salem native uses career in tennis to impact youth

Worthy was introduced to the game of tennis by his wife, Mary.

Winston-Salem native uses career in tennis to impact youth
December 08
14:33 2021

Olander Worthy has accomplished a lot in his life, including inspiring youth to chase their dreams. As a Winston-Salem native, he is proud of where he comes from and strives to continue giving back to the next generation. Through the game of tennis, he has impacted the lives of countless kids and even his own.

“I grew up right in the shadows of the YMCA, which is about a mile away, but we had a good opportunity to learn, develop, and to become responsible young men,” said Worthy about growing up in Winston-Salem.

“We had a very safe existence. We lived in a two-story house with about five or six of us in there. We didn’t lock our doors. There was some mischief or criminal activity in the neighborhood from time to time, but for the most part I was kept inside our fence around our house. I was able to go to places and be exposed to things that a lot of my buddies didn’t take advantage of.”

Worthy would routinely play tackle football with the neighborhood kids and he says it was a “rite of passage to manhood” to do so. “Football was the first thing that I got involved in at school in the fifth grade over at Brown Elementary,” he said. “As I got a little older and got a little more exposure, I did get exposed to basketball at Brown as well. I tried out for the basketball team and I made it.”

Worthy also joined the track team in middle school. Once he entered high school, he was a member of the varsity football team and was somewhat of a Swiss Army knife of sorts that played all over the field in different positions. He was introduced to the game of tennis later on in life and the game would have an impact on him that he could never have imagined.

“First of all, I have always had my eye on the tennis players,” Worthy stated. “I could see all those guys playing tennis and it looked like they were having fun. But they were dressed in all white – white shirt, white shorts, white shoes, and even the ball was white. Me, coming out of a sports culture of mainly contact sports, tennis wasn’t too attractive at the time.”

Worthy’s wife, Mary, played tennis for Atkins High School her senior year and she was the one who formally brought the game to Worthy at the age of 26 while the couple were living in Raleigh.

“While we were playing, the ball careened off the side of the racket and hit me in the eye and at that very moment, I made the decision that I was going to learn this game, because up to that point I was having a lot of fun,” he said. “From there I started reading tennis magazines and I started watching it on television.

“Once I discovered what the game offered, I really said to myself one day, ‘Boy, did I miss out on something big.’”

Worthy continued to immerse himself into the game of tennis over the next few years. While working for Digital Equipment Corporation in the late ‘70s, Worthy and his family were living in Springfield, Massachusetts. He met a gentleman named Lester McDonald who ran a program named Springfield Tennis Opportunity Program (STOP). The two became close friends and Worthy began working with kids in the program.

“I became a program director in that program, I was coaching and teaching kids along the way, and I had attended some USTA (United States Tennis Association) clinics, so I had some teaching skills as I was progressing with the Springfield Tennis Opportunity Program,” Worthy continued.  

“I put in a lot of time teaching kids on the court, teaching them in gymnasiums, and honing my own skills. I applied for a job as tennis coach at Commerce High School (Springfield, Mass.) back in 1995 and I took over the men’s tennis team, which had been dormant for 13 years, so that’s how I started coaching.”

Two years later, Worthy moved to a private school. He then moved on to become the head tennis coach at Springfield Technical Community College for two years. Worthy then had the opportunity to coach his son at his next stop with Science and Technology High School in Springfield.  

“I worked with kids in this amazing game, because the game actually demands so many things that people need to be successful,” he said. “Anything from timeliness, effort, concentration; it’s definitely a thinking man’s game and it has a lot to offer.”

Throughout his years of coaching, Worthy received several awards from the New England branch of the USTA and he also started a local chapter of the National Junior Tennis League, which was a program founded by Arthur Ashe.

“The National Junior Tennis League was started to give kids that normally wouldn’t play tennis an opportunity to get involved with tennis,” he continued. “Actually, I received two awards for having the best NJTL in New England, twice.”

Bringing the game of tennis to a population of kids that otherwise would have never picked up the game brings Worthy a lot of pleasure. Because he knows the benefits of the game, he aimed to bring it to as many children of color as possible.

“I was excited about being able to do that,” he said when asked about bringing the game to kids for the first time. “I didn’t realize that tennis could be a bridge to people that we normally wouldn’t be around … a bridge to places we normally wouldn’t visit.

“Anytime I got kids before me, I was always excited, because I could give them something that they can use as a social tool, let alone something they can do for the rest of their lives.”

Worthy thinks fondly of the lives that he has touched in a positive way over the years. He says it’s a blessing to be a guiding light in a young person’s life to help point them in the right direction.

“I could clearly see that I was adding value to their lives and them not realizing how valuable it would be,” he said, “knowing that if they gained the skills and knowledge that I was trying to impart, how positively it would impact their lives.”

Worthy still plays regularly with a group of friends and even returned to one of his previous coaching stops to pitch an idea of introducing tennis to summer school students. The principal agreed and Worthy spent five weeks this summer teaching those kids the fundamentals of the game.

Worthy was also an educator. Being an African American male in the education system is very rare and Worthy felt he had to make sure he made a positive impact in the lives of children, because they probably would not encounter many male teachers along their way. Outside of tennis, Worthy was also a basketball referee for nearly four decades.  

One hope for Worthy is that more Black youth get involved with the sport of tennis. He says basketball and football teams are readily available and many parents push their kids into those sports. His wish is to have more Black parents push their youth into tennis, because it can open up doors they would have never imagined.  

Worthy passed his knowledge of tennis off to his children. His daughter, Nikki, played varsity tennis at Wibraham Academy and his son, Justin, received a four-year scholarship to play tennis in college as well.

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Timothy Ramsey

Timothy Ramsey

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