Sherley Ward knows the road to elite youth tennis can be a treacherous one.
Sherley began playing youth tennis as a 14-year-old during the 1970s in Indiana and within two years he was already ranked as one of the state’s top 15 players.
He said an encounter with the late Arthur Ashe took his focus off the sport when Ashe told him he was too old to just be starting his tennis career and that he wouldn’t have success because of his lack of experience.
With that advice, Sherley put down his tennis racquet to focus on football. He would later walk on the Indiana University football team to play quarterback, but he said he always regretted his decision to give up tennis.
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And, he said, when his kids showed an interest in tennis he would do things a lot differently.
That has been the case for Sherley’s son, Marco Ward, who has been making waves in the youth circuit ever since picking up a racquet.
“Knowing from experience how competitive tennis is, I put a racquet in his hand at 3 years old,” Sherley said. “I wanted to make sure Marco never heard ‘you’re too old to make it.’ He plays 10-20 hours a week.”
Marco Ward, 14, has been a quick study. He is the first Catawba Indian tribe member to play on the U.S. Tennis Association’s junior tennis circuit, but is making quite a name for himself in many regards on the court. Ward has been sponsored by Wilson Sporting Goods and Queen City Tennis since he was 12 and this spring he wrapped up his first varsity season as an eighth-grader for the Clover High team, where he had a sterling debut season and went a perfect 16-0 in singles and 2-0 in doubles.
He was named the Clover Most Valuable Player and was named to the Region 4 AAAAA all-region team.
“I got to start playing with them really young, so that was a really good thing,” Marco Ward said.
“We had three eighth-graders on the team, but the guys knew that I was really good and could play so they respected me and made it easy to adjust.”
Ward hasn’t stopped there.
Earlier this month he won the USTA St. Andrews Spring Junior challenger tournament in the 14-under boys division in Charleston. More recently, he competed in a regional tournament in Charleston the weekend of May 20-21 and placed second.
“This season of high school tennis gave me some confidence, and so I have a lot of confidence going into next season,” Ward said.
“I play all year round in tournaments and I have confidence that every time I step on the court I can win. My shorthand, serve and quickness to get to the ball are my biggest strengths and I have been practicing every day to get better and to achieve my goals.”
Ward is currently ranked 33rd in the state and just outside of the top 300 in the region for his age group according to Tennisrecruiting.net, but he said he wants to keep climbing the ranks to come back next season even stronger as a freshman.
“I plan on playing in more tournaments, get better at my all-around game and that will hopefully help me win more matches and move up,” he said.
He and his father know there are challenges.
Many of the top players in the state and across the country have full-time tennis coaches or go to tennis academies that have them train up to six hours a day.
Ward hasn’t trained to that extent, but what he’s doing is certainly working as he looks to climb further up the ranks and return next season to Clover to continue the unbeaten start to his career.
“I always think I should be better than I am right now, but going into my first high school season I didn’t know what to expect and I didn’t know I was going to be that good or have that record,” he said. “I always go into a match thinking I’m going to win, but I think I did a little better than I expected. I’m pretty happy how it turned out.”