Cherokee Youth Making a ‘Racket’ in Tennis World


Many high school sophomore student-athletes have at least six academic classes and one or two hours of practice on any given day. But Wichita, Kansas resident Austin Williams is not the average high school sophomore. Williams, 15, Cherokee, has a goal to play on the NCAA Division I level and, eventually, on the professional tennis circuit. In order to do this, Williams has to train at least four hours per day in either Wichita or Kansas City and then cross-train up to two hours for four days a week. To make time for his education, Williams is home-schooled through Connections Academy, where he maintains a B+ average.

“It’s tough,” Williams said about balancing his academics and athletic training. “It takes a lot of discipline. You don’t have a whole lot of time. Some kids have entire days that they can throw away a little bit. I don’t have that. If I don’t work one day--that puts me behind for the next three days.”

Williams spoke to Indian Country Today Media Network by phone from Kansas City, Mo. where he had just arrived to train for a tournament in Dayton, Ohio. His interest in tennis began at the age of 10, and since then Williams has made an impression on the regional and national tennis circuits. To date, Williams’ best accomplishments have been in the United States Tennis Association Missouri Valley region, where he won the Boys’ Sweet 16 in November 2010; won Future Boys 16’s in January 2011; and second place in the Boys’ Super in November 2011. His most recent accomplishment was placing third in the Missouri Valley Sweet 16 tournament. The USTA Missouri Valley is comprised of the tennis players in the states of Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Missouri and Iowa.

“He’s one of the best players in the five-state area, bar none, if not the best in his age group, in his class,” said Williams’ coach, Elliott McDermed. “With more time spent out on the national circuit, he certainly is going to find himself in the same class among the rest of the kids in the country.”

It could be said that Williams comes by his athletic abilities naturally. His mother, Lynn Emery Williams, won the Kansas 5A-level 880 track and field championship in 1975 as a student at Bishop Carroll High School and received attended the University of Tennessee on a track scholarship from 1977-1980. His father, Craig Williams, was a pole vault champion out of 6A Wichita East High School.

At press time, Williams had recently received a new sponsorship from Prince Sports, who provided him with three racquets, a bag and 24 packages of string. At press time, Williams was ranked sixth in the USTA Missouri Valley and was awaiting updated notification of his national ranking.

After completing high school, Williams wants to gain a scholarship to a Division I school with a solid tennis program. The schools in which Williams is interested include Michigan, Pepperdine, Florida, Texas and his mother’s alma mater, Tennessee. He said he is interested in majoring in his father’s field of electrical engineering or his sister’s field of linguistics.

One of the tournaments that is on Williams’ schedule is the Jim Thorpe Native American Games, June 10-17 in Oklahoma City. Celebrating the 100th anniversary of Jim Thorpe’s medal-winning performances at the 1912 Olympics, the competition also features softball, basketball, baseball, golf, track & field, cross country, wrestling, stickball, martial arts and beach volleyball, in addition to tennis.

“I’m excited,” Williams said about participating in the Jim Thorpe Native American Games. “I’ve never played in it before. I think it will be fun to see some of the other Native American games along with my sport.”

The commitment that is required doesn’t end on holidays. Williams’ mother, Lynn, told ICTMN that they received a call on December 19, 2011 in which they found out that Williams was accepted for the Winter Nationals tournament in Phoenix, Arizona. Two days before Christmas, both Lynn and Austin loaded up their car to attend the tournament instead of spending Christmas at home in Wichita. Following the tournament, Williams then had to finish his final exams.

“You have to put everything you have into it,” Williams said to those who are interested in tennis on the highest levels. “You have to give it your best. Otherwise, it won’t happen.”