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Monday, April 21, 2014 10:40 AM

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Single dad's values produces tennis champs


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Photo courtesy of PGTEF. Sixteen-year-old Sharaya Dunwell, left, with her sister Shariah Dunwell, 14.

Photo courtesy of PGTEF. Sixteen-year-old Sharaya Dunwell, left, with her sister Shariah Dunwell, 14.

Published on: Wednesday, August 21, 2013

By Tracey Gold Bennett

As children head back to school this week consider this: how hard would it be to raise three kids alone, have them excel in school and be at the top of their game in tennis?

Stephen Dunwell knows. The senior financial analyst is a single parent to three daughters — Sharaya, 16; Shariah, 14, and Shannon, 11 — and all are advanced tennis players on scholarship with Prince George’s County Tennis and Education Foundation in Largo.

What is perhaps most remarkable is the fact that Dunwell doesn’t play tennis himself but read several books about the game and began teaching his children a decade ago.

Photo courtesy of PGTEF. The Prince George’s County Tennis and Education Foundation team, including Shannon Dunwell, second from the left, and Shariah Dunwell, third from left.

Photo courtesy of PGTEF. The Prince George’s County Tennis and Education Foundation team, including Shannon Dunwell, second from the left, and Shariah Dunwell, third from left.

“I started coaching them when the oldest, Sharaya, was 6 years old. After their grandmother passed, my kids found out that she played tennis and wanted to play. The baby was only 2,” he said. “So, I ordered books online, read them, studied  the sport and trained them.”

Dunwell’s story bears some similarities to Richard Williams — another father, who without any formal training, taught his daughters to play tennis using borrowed tennis balls in crime-ridden Compton, Calif. Williams’ daughters, Venus and Serena, became world champions.

“Initially, with my tennis research, I was just saying well let me look into it. ... I  couldn’t afford (coach) Oscar Wegner,” Dunwell said. Wegner created a tennis instruction system called Modern Tennis Methodology and appeared in a regular tennis tutorial segment on television. “Mr. Williams watched that TV show.”

While there are parallels between the Williams sisters’ story and the Dunwell sisters, it was Stephen Dunwell who grew up in a Bridgeport, Conn., neighborhood dominated by crime. He talked about how his work ethic had its roots in personal tragedy.

Photo courtesy of PGTEF. Sharaya Dunwell, far right, Shariah, second from right, last year with tennis pro Sloane Stephens, second from left, at Citi Open.

Photo courtesy of PGTEF. Sharaya Dunwell, far right, Shariah, second from right, last year with tennis pro Sloane Stephens, second from left, at Citi Open.

“After the death of my mother, I was on my own at age eleven,” he said. “I had an aunt that adopted me, but I was on my own before I went to college. It sort of helped me to be independent.” 

Dunwell said his mother told him from the time he was born that he would go to college, and now he does the same with his own children.

“Going to college is just something I knew I would do. It was rough. Only one other person from my neighborhood went to college,” he explained, giving his mother credit for his education.

“I modeled some of my behavior after my mother and did things that she would want me to do if she were here. When I became a husband and parent, I took experiences in my life and made a model for them,” he said.

Dunwell’s formula worked, according to Brenda Gilmore, executive director of The Prince George’s County Tennis and Education Foundation. Gilmore met Dunwell and his children by chance one day when they were training on the tennis courts in Watkins Regional Park in Upper Marlboro.

“They are well behaved, have a great sense of humor, are well balanced between tennis and school work,” Gilmore said about the Dunwell sisters. “Their talent and drive were evident from the initial time we watched them play.”

Gilmore and her staff provide athletic activities, support and mentoring for children ages 5-18 years of age. More than 90 percent of the kids make it to college, and a large portion of them will have their tuitions paid in full — courtesy of tennis scholarships.

Sharaya, Shariah and Shannon have all played on winning Maryland Junior Tennis League teams for the foundation. Ironically, though the sisters received the same training, each sister has a different game.

“Sharaya has a strong backhand and volley, good work ethic and she takes direction well. Shariah’s serve is her strength. She is a natural and has fun on court. Shannon, the youngest is technically sound, has great footwork and the hunger to win because she wants to beat her sisters,” Gilmore said.

When asked about his secret for producing successful kids, Dunwell shared how he keeps his kids from giving in to peer pressure.

“It starts with the individual, teaching them to have self esteem and not to be sheep and just follow the masses and succumb to peer pressure. What you think of yourself is more important then what others think of you,” he said. “Once this is part of who you are, once you are doing something positive, you will find a way to do what you love and not care about what others think.”

Reader Comments - 1 Total

captcha b46188438fd54f489db669986bcf1684

Posted By: Kehinde On: 8/22/2013

Title: Bravo

Congrats you and your 3 daughters....I know how tremendously hard you worked with them and everything in general....Good for you Steve!!




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