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Midwest

Community Spotlight: Ashtabula County Tennis

July 10, 2020

Though Ashtabula County, located a short distance away from Cleveland, is remote, it boasts a rich tennis heritage. As the tennis community has evolved over the years, so too have the players.

 

Todd Nassief, who now runs junior programming in Ashtabula County, remembers being a latecomer to the sport but loving it from the moment he picked up the racquet. Nassief competed for his school in Ashtabula, St. John's, before going on to play collegiate tennis at Elon University in South Carolina.

Nassief started coaching the boys team for his alma mater of St. John's  in 2012 and started the girls' team in 2016. In 2019, the boys' and girls' team combined for a record of 37-5 with four players moving on to district competition. He has been coaching junior players privately for the past 15 years.

 

When COVID-19 hit the tight-knit Ashtabula tennis family and ultimately destroyed the tennis season for many junior players, Nassief wanted to do everything in his power to provide a space for players to come together once it was safe.

 

"I could not imagine someone wiping out my senior year of tennis," said Nassief. "I mean, you think about your senior year, waiting to be a senior, you're the king of the hill at school, you finally reach the pinnacle, and then you can't play.

 

"I felt horrible for the kids."

Nassief wasted no time once Ohio was cleared for tennis once more in putting on a 16-player modified tournament for the boys during the last weekend in June. An identical tournament for girls will be hosted the weekend of July 11. Nassief was the recipient of the USTA Northeastern Ohio's Racquet in Hand Grant which aided in the expenses associated with running a tournament, helping it to be a huge success.

 

It was Nassief's hope that this tournament would help bring players back together in a safe manner and allow a competitive environment amid uncertainty of sports returning to normal in the fall.

 

"It's something I would have wanted someone to do for me, so I did it for them," said Nassief.

 

Senior Ryan McClure of Lakeside High School won the tournament after his season was cut short due to the pandemic. For Nassief, seeing a senior player go out on top was icing on the cake.

 

Though the tournament was a huge success, Nassief has also been diligently preparing for a staple in Ashtabula: the Ashtabula County tennis ladder.

 

"I'm glad we did the high school tournament," said Nassief. "I think that was so critical, but we also have a community tennis ladder that has been the true success"

 

Currently, Nassief is preparing for about 600 junior matches to take place this summer, along with social ladder nights.

 

Nassief believes the program has been such a hit because it encourages not only growth in the sport but a sense of camaraderie between junior players of different schools.

 

"I just want them to have fun and enjoy the sport as much as I have," said Nassief. "The sport has been so good to me for such a long time, and if I can create an atmosphere where they can compete, improve and make lifelong friends like I have, that would be rewarding for me."

 

Through the county tennis ladder, Nassief has seen over 20 players since 2012 go on to compete in collegiate tennis and anticipates another exciting summer.

 

 Nassief is looking forward to reconnecting with his players, all while following proper safety guidelines and promoting a safe return to the sport.

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