C. JEMAL HORTON
CONCORD — When Chad Oxendine got his first real Cabarrus County experience more than a quarter-century ago, he was just passing through, really.
A fast-talking college graduate who’d just walked across the stage at UNC Wilmington, he was here to spend the summer with his former Seahawks assistant coach, Larry Zerbe, who was helping with the Concord Tennis Association, and then he would be off to do great things in great places.
Little did Oxendine know that that brief stay in 1996 would have such an impact on his life, that after making a name for himself in the second-largest state in the union, he’d find his way back to little ol’ Cabarrus County five years later.
And this time, he’d leave more than 25,000 miles of tennis shoe prints on local courts and change the course of tens of thousands of lives along the way.
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The name Chad Oxendine would become synonymous with tennis ’round these parts for the next two-plus decades. Mention a young tennis prodigy or someone excelling on the senior circuit, chances are they’ve stood across the net from Oxendine as he offered words of advice and encouragement.
Think about it: There hasn’t been a day that you’ve seen Oxendine — unless you worship with him on Sundays — that you haven’t seen him in athletic garb, a baseball cap and sneakers — while coming from or going to the courts.
It will be a much-missed sight.
That’s because, after this week, Oxendine is heading to Bradenton, Florida, home of expansive IMG Academy, where he’ll begin his next venture in tennis.
Oxendine is happy about his new job, yes, but he’s not happy to be leaving Cabarrus County. In fact, he gets a little watery-eyed almost any time he’s asked about walking away from all the lives he’s touched and the ones that will have a lifetime impact on him here.
But while he’s taking a fabulous job at a highly regarded institution, Oxendine said the primary reason he’s heading to Florida is family.
“My mother-in-law lives right outside of Bradenton,” Oxendine explained. “She’s 75 now, and the end-game when my wife (Susan) and I got married was retiring near her mother.”
You gotta respect that, but it’s a major loss for Cabarrus County, nonetheless.
Simply put: Although he partnered with Cabarrus County Parks and Recreation to help people from all walks of life strengthen their tennis games, Chad Oxendine was an institution unto himself.
You could drive past Les Myers Park virtually any time of year, and Oxendine was there, whether he was assisting a child with his first swings, helping another youngster with special needs fulfill a life-long dream, or giving an adult that extra oomph to reach their next level. And when he wasn’t doing that, he was helping conduct a United States Tennis Association tournament or simply squeegeeing a rain-soaked court so a high school match could go on as planned.
Sometimes it was under the broad umbrella of Athletic Management Professionals Tennis, the company he started with Zerbe in 2002, which he later turned into AMPTENNIS, LLC, when Zerbe moved back to his native Reading, Pennsylvania; sometimes it was in conjunction with Parks and Rec; and sometimes it was just out of the goodness of his heart, like when he’d donate used racquets and balls to PE teachers at local elementary schools.
He was a relentless ambassador for tennis here.
The thing is: He didn’t have to be.
As a star player at UNC Wilmington, where he was the team’s No. 1 singles and doubles player, Oxendine had individual dreams of his own. But he learned about the spirit of giving back through the sport when he got some of his first lessons from an iconic African-American man named David Lash while growing up on the public courts at Hanes Park in Winston-Salem.
Lash, who also was a successful high school football coach and went on to be inducted in the North Carolina Tennis Hall of Fame after winning five titles in that sport, wasn’t just about teaching tennis; he gave life lessons, too. That little, yellow ball was never the only topic. And as he went through much of his adolescence, a slender Oxendine ate it all up.
“What he did mean a lot to me,” Oxendine said of Lash, who was also enshrined into the NC High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame. “He taught me so much about everything.”
Oxendine would go on to an illustrious career at West Forsyth High School before shining brightly at Wilmington. But the memory of Lash’s lessons stayed with him, and he imparts some of them to his own students to this day.
After he’d begun his own tennis odyssey, both as an adult player and a teacher of the sport, when Lash died in 1996, Oxendine went back and bravely spoke at his funeral.
About a month after Lash’s death, Oxendine spent the summer of 1996 with Zerbe in Concord, learning all he could from his newest mentor. After that, Oxendine moved to Houston, Texas, and quickly began to establish himself in the huge market.
Armed with a certification from the United States Tennis Professionals Association, Oxendine became the head professional at the prestigious Briar Club, a place frequented by Houston’s elite. Oxendine helped the club’s tennis participation numbers make record growth.
Meanwhile, he competed in several Pro-Am tournaments as a player, and earned numerous accolades doing it. He later left Houston and became the tennis director at Vicksburg Country Club, where he helped that small Mississippi community expand its reach.
But he couldn’t escape the memory of that Cabarrus County experience. And by 2001, he was back, again working with Zerbe, who by now was the tennis director at Cabarrus Country Club. During the winters, though, Oxendine would volunteer with Parks and Rec.
Then, something struck him.
“I would drive by here,” Oxendine said as he sat in Les Myers Park last week, “and there was really nothing happening on the courts here. I mentioned it to (Zerbe), and he said, ‘C’mon! Let’s do our thing!’”
Athletic Management Professionals, Inc., was born soon after.
The Oxendine-Zerbe venture was successful immediately. Residents were delighted there was more grassroots tennis interest, whether it was for themselves or their children.
But by 2010, Zerbe was off to Pennsylvania, and Oxendine was left holding the racquet.
However, he’d earned a marketing degree from UNCW, and he put it to use.
Finally, a welcomed, new entity was here. Oxendine wanted to keep a sense of the Athletic Management Professionals name to honor what he and Zerbe had done together but instead dubbed it AMPTENNIS, LLC.
It’s been a hit ever since.
Cabarrus County has become a hub for tennis in North Carolina and beyond, and Oxendine helped make that happen.
Now, Charlotte, with its own wealthy suburbs, doesn’t have to be the destination spot for tennis in the area. USTA tournaments come here now. Heck, even Charlotte folks come here now. So do Rock Hill, South Carolina, folks, and those from both the Triad and the Triangle.
More importantly, tennis prodigies get their start here now.
Oxendine looks up at the banners lining the fence at Les Myers Park and beams with pride.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “You see those signs there? They show kids growing through the ranks here with AMPTENNIS. The best male tennis player to ever come out of Cabarrus County (is) Andrew Redding (a Cannon School graduate who also played at Indiana). It WAS Brian Burchfield, who went to (North) Carolina to play. But (Redding) is the best now. He played tournaments growing up right here.”
Oxendine doesn’t leave out the girls, either. He starts with former Concord High star Kate Earnhardt, who in 2016 won the first girls singles title in Cabarrus County history and went on to play at Appalachian State and the College of Charleston.
“Kate Earnhardt, she played here,” Oxendine said, “And so did (rising Jay M. Robinson junior state champion) Madison Hill, who is the best female, and (Mount Pleasant’s college-bound) Lucy Bovart.”
In fact, on this day, Bovart is on the Les Myers courts with several students, some elementary-school aged and some teenagers, taking a leadership role while working with Oxendine.
Oxendine smiled at the group as he watched through the fence.
“The cool thing is you’ve got a beautiful facility here, and these kids are growing up here,” he said. “Just watching these kids grow up all through the years has truly meant something to me.
“What’s cool about our junior academy is that all the different kids can come together from all the different schools.”
It’s also been special for those who aren’t able to play for their schools, such as those with special needs — thanks to Oxendine bringing Abilities Tennis to town and putting it to good use, right there at Les Myers Park.
Everyone who wants to can play tennis in Cabarrus County. No one’s left out.
“God just opened doors,” Oxendine said. “It’s just been about bringing people together for tennis.”
What’s next for Cabarrus tennis?
Will all this keep going here when Oxendine is impacting lives in South Florida?
AMPTENNIS, as a business, will leave with Oxendine. But he sincerely hopes things are able to keep going strong. In fact, that’s mainly what he wanted to focus on with this column, but, well, it didn’t quite work out that way.
Oxendine knows he’s not the only one providing great tennis services in Cabarrus County, and he credits those who have done their part in carrying the torch.
“You have some great programs here,” he said. “Sportscenter is on a whole new level now. They’ve done a great job over there, had great directors, great coaches and new ownership. Cabarrus has moved up now. There are more tennis coaches in the community, so there are more entities to find a tennis home.”
But there’s also no doubt that what Oxendine has done these past 20-plus years has been unique.
“Will Parks and Rec put someone in place, someone who can be there and do some tournament stuff, too?” Oxendine said. “It’s important to me.
“And we definitely need Abilities Tennis to continue. Yesterday, I sent an email to (Parks and Rec athletic supervisor) Zack (Roehrs) and said, ‘Here is the executive director of Abilities Tennis, Lou Welch. Please keep it going! Connect with him however you can.’”
Attempts to secure an interview with officials from Parks and Rec by the time this article was published were unsuccessful.
Either way, come Aug. 13, when Oxendine hosts his final USTA event here, he and his wife will begin the road to IMG. After all, Oxendine rarely takes time off, and starting a new job is no exception. He begins at IMG on Aug. 22.
He’ll take a piece of this place with him.
Little ol’ Cabarrus County does that to people, you know.
“My joy is just having the opportunity to touch the lives of the kids, of people,” Oxendine said. “That’s one thing a teacher and coach can do is help give them those life skills. That’s what’s really special.
“Fortunately, I was able to do that here. I’m going to miss that.”
And you’d best believe that Cabarrus County tennis is going to miss Chad Oxendine.