For the past quarter-century, Mount Airy has been known for its tennis program. Starting that tradition of excellence were two tennis partners who won three straight 1A/2A titles.
Keri Whitehead Campbell and Christie Sanders Warren won the doubles title as sophomores and defended that title twice more from 1987 to 1989.
For their efforts, Keri and Christie are being inducted as a team into the Ring of Honor for the Surry County Sports Hall of Fame. Previously, each was inducted into the Mount Airy Hall of Fame as individual players.
In describing the Ring of Honor, Linda Davis, chairperson of the Surry County Recreation Advisory Committee, said, “All inductees must be of good character and reputation and made a significant impact on sports in Surry County through contributions in the field of athletics.”
Keri and Christie certainly contributed. Not only did they bring honors upon themselves, but along with new coach James Hayes, they established a program that went 100-7 over a seven-season period.
Things were set up differently back then, noted Keri. The girls have separate tournaments for 1A and 2A now, but they were all combined in her day. And, there was no dual-team format to determine a champion; the team that did the best with its individual players got the team award.
Because of their strong play, Keri and Christie helped Mount Airy earn team titles in 1987 and 1988, then got the Bears a second-place finish as seniors.
“I had so many wonderful memories from the four years of tennis,” said Christie, “but to me that first state championship was one of the most special because it proved that we could do something that I thought was only a dream and do it with no pressure.
“The other two championships were special, but defending the titles was tougher because expectations were so high after winning as sophomores.”
The Bears won the first set 6-3, but Bandys’ DeAnna Cresimore and Mitzi Yount took the second 6-4. The sophomores came back with a 6-3 set to win the 1987 title on the courts at Duke University.
The next two finals were far less dramatic as Keri and Christie dominated the opposition.
In 1988, the duo beat Amy Fisher and Amy Shouse, Mount Pleasant, 6-0, 6-1. In 1989, they won over Elizabeth Thigpen and Tina Hussey, North Moore, 6-2, 6-0 as the matches were at N.C. State University.
Asked what strengths gave the pair such an advantage, Keri said she and Christie simply refused to give up in any match. They fought hard every time out.
As for their playing abilities, Keri said she believed she had a slightly better forehand and Christie the better backhand, so that allowed them to set up to their strengths.
“Of course, I want to thank my partner Keri for all of her support and always making it through as a team,” said Christie. “After playing so many matches with the same partner, it is very rare that a slump doesn’t occur, but luckily we only got better every match for three years.”
“I am very excited and honored to be part of the county Hall of Fame,” said Christie. “There are so many athletes from Surry County that have made amazing accomplishments, and I am so grateful to share this honor with them.”
Keri noted that the Bears took the team title in 1987 not just because of their own play, but because of a good showing in singles by teammate Allison Yokely.
Both players thanked three coaches who were instrumental in their success.
Before Hayes, the girls’ tennis coach their freshmen year was Betty Smith. She and Coach Hayes encouraged the girls to partner up for doubles and strive to get better.
Keri also thanked Polly Cox who first gave her lessons as a 10-year-old and helped her develop proper fundamentals.
“My parents were great support and encouragement,” added Christie of Johnny and Sonni Sanders.
As a mother of two young athletes, Keri said she now can appreciate how hard it was for her parents, Ed and Edwina Whitehead, to carry her to weekend tournaments all over the place.
“I could really go on and on about all the people that were instrumental because it goes back to every coach I had for every sport, and each one had some quality that made an impression on my competitiveness and character,” said Christie.
Keri noted the hard work that Coach Hayes put in with the players. He scheduled extra practices over spring break and was always finding people for the team to practice or scrimmage against.
By graduation, Christie thought her tennis career was over due to a blood disorder. However, she regained her health and joined a club team while at UNC-Chapel Hill. She had success there and over the years with adult tennis leagues.
In 2006, she was part of a USTA amateur team based at Lake Norman that won a state title. Two years later she won another state title competing with a team based in Charlotte.
For Keri, she left North Carolina for Division II school Abilene Christian.
“I was the worst player on the team,” she thought after the team’s first practice her freshman year.
A standout in high school, Keri said she improved a lot by scrimmaging against great players in practice every day.
She earned the first of three all-conference awards her sophomore year. Also, Abilene won three straight conference titles and made three national tournaments from her sophomore to senior years.
One year the team finished fifth in the nation, and the other two times the team was fourth, she recalled with pride.
Playing for a national title and traveling to destinations across the country was a dream come true, she said.
After graduation, Keri found work in Dallas and has lived in Texas ever since. She is planning to return to Mount Airy this Friday to take part in the induction ceremony on Saturday.
The inductees’ names will be unveiled on the Hall of Fame monument at Fisher River Park at 3 p.m. Saturday, followed by the ceremony in the SCC gym at 4 p.m.