BELTON — Young players at the Palmetto Championships serve a kind of junior tennis apprenticeship.
They start out at courts in Anderson. Then, as they get older or make it to the finals, they move to courts at or near the Belton Tennis Center.
At 15, Jerry Price of West Columbia finally got his shot in Belton on Saturday.
“This is my first year actually playing in Belton, so I’m pretty excited about that,” Price said after his 6-0, 6-0 win over Will Bailey of Pauline in the 16-and-under boys’ singles.
A rising sophomore and No 1 on the tennis team at Airport High School, Price has been playing tennis about six years.
“This is my third or fourth Palmetto. I’ve made it to the round of 16 a couple of years, and I hope to go further this year,” he said.
“At first I didn’t like this tournament. But now I do. It makes me focus,” he said.
Price is hoping the extra work on his serve and volley will pay dividends.
“I’m able to put volleys away more instead of just putting the ball back in play,” Price said.
The tournament, officially known as the Palmetto Championships presented by Chick-fil-A of Anderson, has drawn more than 400 youngsters to the Upstate for the Memorial Day weekend.
It is the national qualifying tournament for junior players in South Carolina and continues through Tuesday.
This year, players checking in at the Belton Tennis Center gazebo, where the tournament desk is located, find an empty chair with the words “Big Jim” across the front.
It’s a tribute to the late Jim Russell, who served as tournament referee for all but one of the Palmetto Championships from 1975 through 2012.
Russell, 67, from Belton, died late in June after returning home from an afternoon walk.
“It was a shock to all of us,” said tournament director Rex Maynard.
Russell was a highly respected tennis official in junior and collegiate ranks as well as an advocate for tennis at the local, state, Southern and national USTA levels.
In the last two months of his life, Russell was referee at the ACC Championships, NCAA Men’s Championships, the Palmetto Championships and the Southern 18U Championships, according to a tribute published in the program of the 2013 Palmetto Championships.
Maynard noted that a street adjacent to the Belton Tennis Center has been renamed Jim Russell Way. Also, players now report to “Big Jim’s Gazebo” for their court assignments and to turn in their scores, Maynard said.