July 16, 2011

Soaring ever higher

Meghan Kelley's calendar doesn't allow for the Betty Blakeman tourney this weekend.

By Glenn Jordan gjordan@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

FALMOUTH - Meghan Kelley knows she leads a rather unusual lifestyle, much different than most 13-year-old girls.

click image to enlarge

Meghan Kelley is in Florida this weekend at the 14-and-under National Clay Court Championships. That means a new women's champion for the Betty Blakeman Memorial.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

Meghan Kelley is happy to do whatever is required to achieve her goal of winning a scholarship to a premier collegiate tennis program.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

Which is how she found herself, during a week in May at the prestigious Junior Tennis Champions Center in Maryland, concentrating not on her crosscourt backhand, second serve or drop volley, but on her heartfelt recitation of the Maya Angelou poem, "I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings."

Oh, and she did it on a lunch break, inside an automobile, in front of a video camera.

"Everyone was laughing," Kelley said. "They were like, 'Why are you in a car?' I was like, 'Well, I couldn't do it anywhere else. It was the only quiet place.' "

Then, of course, there was the problem of emailing such a large file to her teacher back at Falmouth Middle School. Meghan and her mom, Jennifer, laugh about the situation now.

"Everybody there is worried about putting their best foot forward on the tennis court," Jennifer Kelley said of the invited campers. "Meghan was more concerned about getting her poetry project in on time."

Juggling schoolwork and tennis has been a constant challenge for Kelley as she has risen in national tennis rankings over the past two years, from 400-something to as high as 21st in the country for girls aged 14-and-under. She won the singles title at a national tournament in Michigan earlier this month and teamed with a girl from Connecticut to win three national age-group doubles titles.

Instead of defending her women's singles crown at the Betty Blakeman Memorial this weekend in Yarmouth -- where last summer she became the youngest champion in tournament history -- Kelley will board a plane today bound for Florida, where she is scheduled to play in the 14-and-under National Clay Court Championships.

"She's been playing some amazing tennis," said Eric Blakeman, who teamed with Kelley to win the mixed doubles title in early June at the M&M Classic, the only Maine-based tournament of the 21 she has played so far this year. "She's quite the phenom."

Among the states where she has played this year: California, Maryland, Michigan, Ohio, Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire. After the Florida tournament, she will represent New England at a USTA zonal team competition in St. Louis, then travel to Georgia to take part in the Hard Court Supernationals, one of four major tournaments on the junior tennis circuit.

If she continues to progress, Kelley is hopeful of making the main draw of December's prestigious Orange Bowl tournament, which attracts an international field. Although she won't turn 14 until October, she already has clearly defined long-term goals.

"I want to get a full (college) scholarship to a really good tennis school," she said. "If I do well there, I want to try to go professional."

Maintaining straight A's, as she has done in the Falmouth public school system, has not been easy for the past two years. Not with spending two nights each week in Massachusetts so she can train at a tennis academy based at the Manchester Athletic Club.

Her mom picks her up at school on a Tuesday afternoon and drives her down for practice the rest of the day. Kelley then trains all day Wednesday and Thursday and returns Thursday night. A host family -- with a tennis-playing daughter of similar age -- provides a home away from home.

"She has a weird schedule as well," Kelley said. "She goes (to school) half days."

Not all of her Falmouth friends understand why Kelley spends so much time away from school. The girls she has met on the national circuit -- the majority of whom are home-schooled, she said -- know the commitment necessary to be competitive at their level.

(Continued on page 2)

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