Local Sports

Passing the torch

— If you’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting Horace Watkis, you know how nice of a man he is. His Jamaican accent and smile put you at ease and when talking to him about tennis, his passion runs deep and his knowledge of the game is vast.

That’s why it’s bittersweet that after 10 years of teaching and promoting the sport and building a youth tennis program from scratch, Watkis has stepped down as the head professional at the Thakkar Tennis Center at the Country Club of Sebring.

“It’s a sweet and sad day,” said Watkis. “I just want to thank everyone who has helped me in my 10 years here and I know Mike is going to be successful and will continue to build the sport of tennis.

“I loved working with the kids and to see them grow up playing tennis and going on to play for the local high schools was very satisfying for me.”

Reed, who was a standout tennis player at Sebring High School, led the Blue Streaks to an undefeated regular season as a senior in 2010.

Taking over for Watkis is a challenge the 22-year-old Reed is eagerly looking forward to.

“It’s a great feeling and I’m very excited to be taking over for Horace,” said Reed. “I’m looking forward to helping build the popularity of tennis in the county and I’d like to make it as popular as youth baseball is.”

Reed will continue the after school tennis programs during the school year and is now offering weekly tennis camps for youngsters ages 5-18.

The camps run from 9 a.m. until noon Monday through Friday and the cost is $100 per child for the week. Any level of player is welcome, and Reed teaches the basics of the sport to the youngsters in a fun environment.

Reed was an assistant at the tennis camps the last couple of years with Watkis and attended them when he was growing up.

“I’ve played tennis with Horace since I was 12 or 13 years old,” Reed said. “He’s a great teacher, I learned a lot and he has helped me to connect with the people who are interested in learning and growing the game.

“I really enjoy the summer camps because it gives me an opportunity to teach the kids the right way to play a great sport they can enjoy for a lifetime.”

Watkis is moving to Daytona Beach and will continue to teach tennis and spread the passion he has for the sport that has taken him far from his island home.

“My wife is in Daytona Beach and I’m going to be teaching tennis on a more limited basis,” Watkis said. “I’m looking forward to going to the beach and taking it easy as well.

“I’m proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish in 10 years and I know Mike will be successful because he has a solid foundation to build on.”

Reed has big shoes to fill, but he has the energy, passion and support to make this a seamless transition.

“Horace has helped me out so much,” Reed said. “I can’t thank him enough for the foundation he has built and left me with. We want to help build the membership and we’re going to host some tournaments and try to get some more people interested in the sport.

For more information, contact Reed at 863-414-1966.

“I’m so excited to get things started and we’ve got plenty of room for more campers,” Reed said. “The earlier kids learn a sport the easier it is to improve and I want to help grow tennis to a new level.”