On a Monday morning during one of the hottest weeks of the year, most people stayed inside to keep cool with the air conditioning. On the tennis courts at Scarsdale High School, however, groups of adults and some children braved the heat for their regularly scheduled tennis lessons. Their instructors, dressed in coordinated sweat-wicking athletic wear, had been baking in the heat all morning, having arrived at the courts around 8:30 a.m., and there they will be until 8:30 p.m. Their only break from the courts comes in the middle of the day when they head to Scarsdale Middle School to teach a round of lessons there.
Henry “Sel” Wormenor, Parteick Nortey, Issaka Jarrah and Benjamin Duah teach up to 12 hours a day, five days a week at both the high school and middle school for the Scarsdale Parks and Recreation Department’s tennis program. All four men came to the U.S. from Ghana between 10 and 15 years ago and have been playing tennis for more than 20 years.
“I’ve been playing tennis for over 25 years and teaching here for 10 years. I love teaching here,” said Nortey. “Tennis has been everything in my life. I started as a ball boy, then decided to learn how to play, and I taught myself how to play by watching and practicing on my own.”
“Everything and anything is my favorite part of teaching, I love it because I'm good at what I do,” said Jarrah. “Kids, adults, whoever you give me, everything when I’m on the court is good for me. It’s all special to me — doesn't matter who or how I’m teaching.”
The four have no shortage of clients to help keep them busy, largely due to the dedicated following they’ve built over their collective 30 years of teaching for the rec department. As the congenial coaches hit balls back and forth over the net with different students, they asked for updates on their client’s kids, spouses and jobs.
“Did your daughter get that job?,” Jarrah asked one student as she picked the ball up from the ground. On the opposite court, Nortey encouraged a new client, the mother of two young twins, through her first session. “You can always make a mistake and correct it on the next shot,” he told her when her racket hit a ball wildly out of bounds. “Don’t worry, don’t worry, you can do it.”
One student, Kerrie Braff, who has been taking lessons with Jarrah for seven years, said his coaching specifically is what keeps her coming back time and time again.
“Issaka has kept us coming back, we love Issaka,” said Braff. “I’ve played with him twice a week for years. He's a great instructor, he's become a great friend, he's just a good coach overall in technique and life lessons.”
“It’s a real coach-student relationship and he really knows how to improve your game,” said Kim King who has been taking lessons for a few years. “Our children play with him, our friends all play with him.”
Wormenor, who has been coaching for eight years, said that he, along with his three co-workers, all came to Scarsdale after moving to the U.S. specifically because they heard it was a great place to teach tennis.
“I think the people are nice and I came here because my friends told me this place is very nice,” said Wormenor. “My favorite part of teaching is teaching the kids, trying to develop them so they learn how to play. A lot of them really want to play, so helping them to learn is a lot of fun.”
Regardless of what brought them to the U.S., they all say they’re glad they ended up in Scarsdale. Jarrah came here more than 15 years ago to play tennis professionally, but realized once he arrived the proper funding to support his career was lacking.
“I decided to teach instead,” said Jarrah. “I said why not, if I can’t play my tennis, I can still teach people that want to play and give my knowledge to them.”
The impact of tennis on their lives can’t be understated, the coaches said, as each has dedicated his life to the sport in one way or another. Wormenor and Nortey specifically said they felt tennis shaped their formative years, which has inspired them to plant the seeds of a foundation meant to provide sports resources to youth back in Ghana.
“Growing up we didn't really get help in terms of equipment,” said Nortey. “So we try every year to try to get some old rackets from people that we teach, then we try to organize a tennis program back home to help the kids. The goal is to introduce the kids into playing tennis and having fun and staying out of trouble.”
The unnamed foundation has yet to receive the support and recognition they’re hoping to ultimately garner, said Wormenor. They are still trying their best to gather more people to help them and the kids in Ghana.
“It’s about giving a lot of people back home the opportunity to learn how to play the game, because there hasn’t been a lot of development since we moved from Ghana,” said Nortey. “We’re trying to help a lot of kids who after school aren’t doing anything — they’re not doing sports or physical exercise. There’s a lot of kids who don’t exercise at all ... we're trying to help them learn how to play and be good as well, because you never know where it’s going to take you.”
The coaches’ dedication to tennis has translated to a very devoted following in Scarsdale, and many of their students have referred to the coaches as “friends,” “therapists” and “mentors.” According to Braff, they even know their clients well enough to remember what makes them tick, recognize what makes them frustrated or happy, and know how to teach each individual based on their temperament.
The power of tennis, even in lessons for half an hour or an hour once a week over the summer, is greater than just enjoying a sport — that’s what Nortey, Jarrah and Wormenor said they believe in and what they’ve taught their students to believe as well.
“Tennis is like therapy for me because the best place for me to be is on the tennis court,” said Jarrah. “No matter what stress I'm thinking about, as soon as I get on the court everything is gone. That's why I love it so much, because no matter what, tennis gets me exactly to where I’m supposed to be.”