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Texas

ACEING THE 

COMPETITION

Paul Ryan  |  September 9, 2016
<h2>ACEING THE </h2>
<h1>COMPETITION</h1>
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Whitney, Texas. Population 2,100. Average income $25,000.

 

The town's claim to fame? Lake Whitney served as the home of the world’s first bass fishing tournament in 1955.

 

Whitney has just two run-down, dilapidated tennis courts that have long needed a replacement.

 

That replacement is coming now, in the form of eight brand-new, state-of-the-art tennis courts. The plan is a dream come true for the Duncans, two stars of the Texas tennis scene that have not only helped make the project happen but have taught dozens of kids along the way.

 

ACE, or ‘All Children Excelling,’ was designed to raise money for court construction and the development of tennis in the area. The Duncans offer a program of free tennis lessons for the kids of Whitney who otherwise might not be able to afford them. The two have worked with nearly 200 kids over the past 11 years but have never once thought about changing ACE’s non-profit status.

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“It’s all about the kids,” Jim says. “It’s volunteer work. It’s for the community. It’s for the kids. When we got involved we saw the determination, the willingness to work, the discipline and the total character of these kids -- it’s just unbelievable.”

 

It all started when the two were 12 years old, playing tennis in Fort Davis, a small town in west Texas “about 200 miles southeast of El Paso.” Jim played football, basketball, ran track and played tennis while Ann was a basketball, volleyball and tennis player.

 

“That’s what you did in the spring,” Ann said of playing tennis.

 

The Duncans continued to play tennis in Dallas before moving to Whitney for retirement -- well, at least they thought they were retiring.

 

The two laughed when I mentioned they were supposed to stop working when they moved to Whitney. Then Jim explained.

 

“I did retire. What happened on the ‘ACE’ situation or the tennis situation is that I got in touch with an old friend of mine from Canyon Creek Country Club in Richardson and asked her what I should do because we had a hard time finding a tennis match. She said ‘why don’t you go to Hill County, the junior college or go to the high school and see if you can help them?’”

 

So that’s exactly what they did. The Duncans volunteer and work closely with the Whitney High School tennis coach, starting with around five kids on the team back in 2005. Each year, the numbers continued to grow, and before they knew it, “we had two tennis courts and 40 tennis players.”

 

Despite their efforts, the money was not available to build new tennis courts. That’s when they came up with the idea for ‘ACE,’ to raise money through donations for new courts for the kids.

 

“At about that time, I had been such a nuisance to the school board and the superintendent that they said, ‘I’ll tell you what we’ll do, we’ll give you the land if you’ll build the tennis courts,’ Jim recalls. I thought, ‘well that’s a pretty good deal.’

 

“I thought that I could raise $400,000. You know, it sounds easy,” he says as Ann and I laughed. “Come to find out, I couldn’t do it!”

 

Jim raised an impressive $25,000, but it fell well short of the needed amount to build the new courts.

 

However, as luck would have it, in the fall of 2015, Whitney had an athletic bond election and the superintendent of the town’s ISD informed Jim that he would be a co-chair. With help from the Duncans, the bond passed and allowed the school board to build four new tennis courts with an eventual plan to build eight for a town that needed them badly.

 

But the Duncans didn’t stop there.

 

“They finally had a little bird in their ear that said ‘why don’t you build all eight tennis courts, forget about the lights and then ACE will do the amenities,’” Jim says. “Those amenities will be bleachers, a storage building, covered cabanas in the middle so players will have somewhere to put their personal property during the matches and a covered bench to sit upon between court changes.”

 

The amenities will cost ACE around $120,000 total, of which they’ve raised $85,000, thanks in large part to an anonymous $50,000 donation.

 

And still, the Duncans don’t want any of that money for themselves. Since the beginning, it has been about the kids and will continue to be about the kids for as long as they keep teaching.

 

“[Whitney] is a very deprived area,” Jim says. “In fact it’s so deprived that we have had to scrape up tennis racquets and buy tennis racquets for the younger kids because they couldn’t afford them. We need to help make them productive individuals, they deserve it.

 

“If that question ever came up [of why we don’t charge], we would just say ‘we do not charge, but we have a non-profit corporation -- ACE -- that we would be tickled to death to accept a donation’”

 

Players from Whitney High School have made impressive marks in the high school ranks. In 2011, their girls doubles team finished second in State. At least 25 players have represented Whitney at the Regional Tennis Tournament in the last five years. Over 20 have received academic and athletic scholarships for college.

 

In spite of all these athletic accomplishments, it’s the academic accolades the Duncans are most proud of. Jim was busting as he says seven out of the eight graduating seniors from the spring are off to college. A few years ago, one former player received funding from the USTA Texas Foundation.

 

“Our objective eight years ago was probably try to get at least two or three kids to leave, go to college, to better themselves and to be very productive in the world. We never thought it was anything like The First Tee, but in so many ways it is. It’s really not so much about building tennis players, it’s about building people -- young men and young women.”

 

The Duncans recanted one of their most extraordinary pupils from a couple of years ago.

 

When the team from Whitney traveled to Austin for State, one of the player’s parents made the trip as well. The parents worked at the school as custodians and could not afford a hotel, so they did their janitorial work on Sunday night, drove to the capital city, then slept in their car so they could watch her advance in the tournament.

 

At the tournament, Jim bumped into former USTA Texas Executive Director and doubles partner Ken McAllister. The exchange went something like this:

 

“What are you doing here?” Ken asked.

 

“Brought two girls to the State tournament,”

 

“You gotta be kidding me. What are their names?”

 

Jim told Ken the names and Ken had a puzzled look on his face.

 

“That name sure sounds familiar. Did she apply for a USTA Texas Scholarship?”

 

“Beats me. I have no idea.”

 

“Just a minute,” Ken said before looking it up. He showed Jim the application.

 

“Is this her?”

 

“It is,” Jim replied. “Would you like to meet her?”

 

Jim introduced the young girl’s family -- father, mother and sister -- and told Ken about their story and how they made the trip to Austin.

 

That girl is the same one who won second in the state with her doubles partner.

 

That girl is the same one who got the USTA Texas scholarship.

 

“She graduated from college in two and a half years,” Ann says gleefully.

 

Jim waits for a second before adding, “that’s pretty special.”

 

Jim and Ann Duncan might not be household names in Texas tennis, but they should be. The two have been growing the game of tennis is Whitney for well over a decade now and are finally getting the courts they so justly deserve.

 

To tickle the Duncans to death and help them reach their goal of $120,000 for the court amenities, please visit allchildrenexcelling.org.

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