Wilkes celebrates a decade in Pelham

Rusty Wilkes, right, alongside his stepdaughter, Emily Sullivan, preps his 14-and-under team as it prepares for state junior finals. (Contributed)

By CONNIE NOLEN / Community Columnist

Pelham Racquet Club’s USPTA instructor and Rusty’s Tennis Academy Founder Rusty Wilkes asked, “Who gets certified to teach tennis when he doesn’t teach tennis for a living?”

Rusty’s answer is Bill Bussey. In addition to his role as Bubba, famed funny-man of “The Rick and Bubba Show,” Bussey also takes on the role of dad and volunteer tennis coach – and he takes this responsibility very seriously.

At the State Junior Tennis Tournament, Rusty named Bussey as Junior Volunteer Tennis Coach of the Year for all of his hard work as a volunteer coach.

Describing his first telephone conversation with Bussey, Wilkes said, “When Bubba first called me, I thought he was one of my friends pretending to be Bubba.”

Bussey asked Wilkes, “How do you charge for tennis lessons – by the pound or by the hour?”

This comical exchange led to lessons. “Rusty gave me my first tennis lesson. I was 42,” Bussey said.

Wilkes soon recruited Bussey to be a volunteer coach for PRC Junior Teams.

This year, Bussey served as one of the volunteer coaches for the 14-and-under intermediate division.  How much Bussey loves coaching the kids is evidenced by his constant court presence in the near 100-degree heat during state competition weekend at Auburn.

Bussey’s excitement when his team made the finals was contagious. His pre-match coaching speech credited the kids for great play. His gracious appreciation for the team that edged his team out of a state championship this year credited these opponents for their own hard work.

“Over 400 players have played in the State Junior Tennis Tournament representing Pelham Racquet Club,” Wilkes said.

As Rusty Wilkes celebrates his 10th year of taking PRC teams to the State Junior Tournament, he also celebrates the commitment of volunteer and parent coaches such as Bussey. PRC teams fared well at the state tournament.

“Without parent and volunteer coaches, competing with this many teams and players would be impossible,” Wilkes said.

To all of his players, parents and volunteer coaches, Wilkes said, “Thank you. It’s been a great 10 years.”

Connie Nolen can be reached by email at CNolen@Shelbyed.k12.al.us.