Making a difference
Some senior projects around Rutherford County are more than just extended homework assignments — they truly make a difference. Chase High School senior Mason Womack’s project was one of those.
Mason, as part of his project, master-minded a doubles tennis tournament in October to raise money and support wheelchair tennis.
Mason was inspired by his good friend Conner Stroud. Conner, who has garnered national attention, was born with Proximal Femora Focal Deficiency (PFFD) in both legs, Conner has no hip joints or femurs.
PFFD is a condition where the end of the bone closest to the hip is too short, so Conner’s legs are very small. He is known for playing tennis on his “stubbies”, but competed in his first wheelchair tennis tournament in September.
“I play tennis with him at the Peachtree Racquet Club and I know him very well, so I decide for my senior project to do a doubles tennis tournament to raise money and donate that money towards wheelchair tennis and do the tournament in honor of him,” Mason said.
Mason created flyers and a website to promote the tournament and advertised around the county as well as at Gardner-Webb University.
Twelve doubles teams registered for the tournament held at Peachtree Racquet club on Oct. 18 and 19. Dewey Stroud, Mason’s project mentor, tennis coach and owner of Peachtree allowed Mason to use the courts free of charge.
“I mostly went into it blind because I had never put together a tournament,” Mason said. “I thought it was a good turnout considering.”
Mason received donations of water from Food Lion and pizza from Papa John’s.
Although Mason was responsible for court preparation and planning, it was the most challenging aspect of the process.
“It was overwhelming at first, especially for me, because most of the people playing were older than me,” Mason said. “So telling all these adults where to go and what to do was new.”
“I could see that it forced him out of his comfort zone,” Mason’s mother, Sheila Womack said. “I helped him put out the flyers and supported him when he needed it, but he pretty much did this on his own because I didn’t know what to do either.
“I could see him as not just a little boy anymore because he took ownership in something that he had done. All that people came really complimented him on a job well done and really seemed to enjoy it”
Mason’s effort through the tournament and other donations resulted in $818.
Mason sent the money to the United States Tennis Association’s (UTSA) North Carolina branch in December.
Shortly after, Mason learned that he was chosen for the NC Tennis Association President’s Award as someone whom has exhibited exceptional service to USTA North Carolina.
“That is broad criteria, but it has been my experience that it becomes pretty clear when there is someone. When we received Mason’s letter in December saying he wanted to donate $818 to wheelchair tennis from the doubles tournament he held, it was obvious to me that Mason should be the person,” UTSA North Carolina Executive Director Kelly Gaines said. “It is not my choice, but Alex Rucker’s who is the outgoing president. When I told him about it, he agreed. Although, there are many people in North Carolina who could be considered, it just seemed that Mason’s actions warranted notice.”
“I sent in the money and thought that was it,” Mason said. “I really never even heard of them getting the money until they let me know about the award. It was a big surprise.”
Mason and his parents, Sheila and Terry, made the trip to the Pinehurst Resort on Jan. 25 where he was recognized.
According to the UTSA, each wheelchair costs roughly $1,000. After the awards ceremony, Mason was approached by Ashley Thomas, founder and executive director of Bridge II Sports in Durham.
Thomas thanked Mason for his work and told him that his money went to providing a wheelchair for a junior tennis player at her club.
“I really enjoy playing tennis, and for me allowing someone the opportunity to play tennis feels really good,” Mason said.
“When he got the award, people were really impressed with the impact that someone this young had made and not realizing it,” Sheila added. “Of course my husband and I were very proud of Mason for receiving the award but I think the greatest sense of pride came with knowing he had made a difference in the life of another.”
Although Chase High won’t field a tennis team this spring, Mason still plans to compete in USTA tournaments throughout the season. He plans to attend Gardner-Webb University next year and may even try to walk on to the tennis team.