It's a common story. Two young athletes work tirelessly in an effort to earn Division I college scholarships. What's unique about the story of Teal and Ryan Howard, however, is the fact that they're not shooting hoops or throwing a football. Instead, the brothers spend countless hours improving their groundstokes on the tennis court.
Ignoring the inevitable razzing from their schoolmates, the brothers have already earned scholarships, but not to college quite yet. They have each earned a one-week scholarship to the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Bradenton, Fla., which has produced some of the best tennis players in the world.
Ryan, 16, just finished his sophomore year, his first in competitive tennis, with the best record on the Hamden tennis team. He played basketball through middle school, but became interested in tennis as a freshman.
Instead of joining the team with no experience, he elected to spend a year training with Daniel Wellington, founder of Wellington's Academy of Tennis, LLC. There, he joined his brother Teal, 14, who had been playing since he was 7, and immediately fell in love with the game.
"The thing about tennis is that it's an individual sport," said Ryan, "in basketball the team loses, but in tennis if you lose, you lose."
Wellington wrote a letter to Nigel Griffith on behalf of Teal for a scholarship to the Bollettieri Tennis Academy. Griffith, who attend the Bollettieri Tennis Academy, is the tournament director for the USTA New England Sectional championships and selected scholarship winners for the Academy.
Teal, who will begin his freshman year at Hamden this fall, has always been drawn to individual sports. In addition to playing tennis, he is an avid golfer and coin collector.
Despite his shy exterior, Teal has proven himself to be quite a leader, helping to start the Hamden Middle School Tennis Club. He wrote a letter to the principal of the school about the club that drew close to 50 students.
He, Ryan, and Wellington help coach and give clinics for the members of the team in an effort to get more young kids, especially African-Americans, interested in tennis.
"Not many parents out there realize how many tennis scholarships are available," said Wellington, "And there's less competition than other sports like basketball."
George Howard is the first to give credit to others for the success of his sons. He considers Wellington a second father to them, and thanks his family, along with numerous members of the Hamden community, for devoting their time and effort.
"This has really been a total community experience," George Howard said. "It just shows that with some help, any kid can be anything."
George's youngest son, Brandon, is following in his brothers' footsteps. The 10-year-old recently won the singles championship for his age group at the USTA New England championships held July 4 at Yale.
Teal and Ryan will redeem their scholarships later this summer. To prepare for the Florida heat, they have been practicing outdoors at the hottest time of the day. They are excited to play against better competition, but don't expect them to be intimidated.
Wellington regularly provides them with tickets to the Pilot Pen Tennis tournament in New Haven, and last year Teal and Ryan found their way onto the court. They looked over to see they were hitting balls next to some of the pros.
"They don't get impressed by status," said George, "they just act as if they belong ...because they do."