It was a decision Marceil Whitney described as “bittersweet.”
The 16-year boys’ and girls’ tennis coach at Redmond High School decided to step down from her position in December to realize her lifelong dream of opening up an indoor public tennis facility on the Eastside, with a focus on serving at-risk and low-income kids.
“It was tough,” Whitney said on her decision to resign. “I was trying to figure out how I could do both, but I can’t. What really helps is that I know I will see a lot of (the kids) come through and play.”
The new facility, which will feature six standard courts and six children’s courts, as well as locker rooms, a player’s lounge, pro shop and meeting rooms, is set for its grand opening on Feb. 11 from 3-6 p.m. It is located at 10822 117th Place Northeast in Kirkland, just east of I-405.
Whitney’s ties to Redmond High go way back. Although she graduated from a different Redmond High School, in Oregon, her kids were Mustangs, around the time she took over the head coaching job in 1995.
She said the part of coaching she will miss the most is the remarkable changes she saw in her players off the court.
“I’ve seen (kids) grow through their personality and their character, integrity and honesty, many life skills,” Whitney described. “Kids that have been so shy, not wanting to look you in the eye and won’t talk much, have blossomed into who they want to be, through the opportunity of playing tennis.”
Whitney said she loved to see her players achieve things on the court that they didn’t think they could, but she also tried to keep practices fun, providing her Mustang athletes with an outlet from their hectic daily lives.
“Those kids are so stressed out anyways, with all their studies, you want to give them some fun memories to take with them,” she said. “Kids would come back and say, ‘that’s the best experience I had in all of high school.’”
Along the way, there has been a good deal of success, too. As the boys’ coach, Whitney’s team won the 4A Kingco title three straight years, from 1999-2001, and then finished tied in 2002. She also guided the girls to their lone league title, in 2007, the year she also won the league’s Coach of the Year award.
Along the way, she has been instrumental in exposing youth to the game of tennis, through her nonprofit Tennis Outreach Programs (TOPs), which she founded in 2002, and also at the high school level — as evidenced by the Mustangs’ annual mixed doubles tournament.
“We’d have a barbecue, and anyone could come,” Whitney said of the fun event. “We encouraged the tennis players to bring their friends… we started off with 10-12 kids, and by the time we had the last one, we had 125.
“The football players would smell the hamburgers cooking, and we’d say ‘come on over and eat, but you have to play at least one game.’”
THE NEXT STAGE
When Whitney got involved with TOPs about 10 years ago, she realized that for King County’s nearly 2 million residents, there were only a total 14 public indoor courts — Robinswood in Bellevue and the Seattle Tennis Center – formerly Amy Yee – in Seattle.
The numbers didn’t seem right, and she decided to do something about it.
“This place came up for us, and we thought, ‘this is doable,’” Whitney recalled. “We were able to secure a loan through donations, to put this together.”
As a kid, the TOPs president was forced to hit balls for hours on her back patio in the small town of Mollala, Ore. with a broken racket. The only two courts in her town were reserved for high school students on the tennis team, and outside of that, adults had priority.
When she was old enough, she joined a team, and was in for a bit of a shock when she was told to go play a match.
“I didn’t know how to score, I’d never played in a match, and never played doubles,” she said. “After that match, I said to myself, ‘I’m going to give back to kids, and give them the opportunity I didn’t have – to learn the game and have fun with it.’”
Whitney’s community service includes founding a before-school program through the Redmond Community Center called “Wake Up To Tennis,” something she plans to continue at the Kirkland location.
“I’ve been blessed to be able to give back to the kids and give them something I truly love,” she said. “My goal is to instill the love of tennis in kids, because this is a lifetime sport.”
For more information on the facility in Kirkland, visit www.topskirkland.org or contact Whitney at mwhitney @tennisoutreach.org. To RSVP for the grand opening, email firstname.lastname@example.org.