Roland Burrell is putting on a Pro-Am doubles event at Taylor Tennis Club for the second straight year on Friday, April 21. Burrell has spent the past 10-15 years instructing and getting people involved in activities at Taylor (he organizes many doubles events at the club).
The competitive juniors he coaches include Elinor Shpunt, Shawn Sophasath, Lyndsay Enriquez, Sahand Marzban, James Kim and Adith Prematilake. Burrell has also worked with Reece Carter and Marcello Audino, who both recently competed in the U14 Indoor Rogers Junior Nationals (Carter placed seventh in Championship Flight girls’ singles and Audino was the boys’ singles Flight #4 champion).
Growing up in Jamaica, Burrell took up tennis at around age 12.
“I started as a ball boy at a resort,” he said. “It was a pretty busy court, so the times that I got to play were when no one was playing or taking lessons. There was a bunch of us. We got to play together. We competed against each other and that’s how we got better.”
Burrell comes from a country where “every school has a track,” he said. Jamaica has produced a plethora of world class sprinters, including Olympic champions Usian Bolt and Elaine Thompson.
“People here think I’m really fast on the court,” Burrell said with a laugh.
Burrell moved as a teenager from Jamaica to Toronto, living there for a couple of years before residing for a short time in England and then coming to Winnipeg.
“It reminds me a lot about Jamaica,” he said of Winnipeg. “People are friendly here. You can talk to your neighbour. You can go out with your neighbours and hang out.”
It was winter when Burrell first came to the city. There were no tennis teaching jobs available so he applied to the Winnipeg Police Service. He got a second interview with the police force but then started a job as assistant tennis pro at Winnipeg Winter Club working with head pro Fern Ruth.
“I was playing a tournament at Tuxedo,” remembered Burrell, “and she saw me play and said, ‘I want my students to play just like you. Do you want to teach?’”
Burrell took over as head tennis pro at WWC when Ruth moved to the United States, but before starting the job Ruth sent him to the Vic Braden Tennis College in Florida to hone his craft. Burrell spent three to four months with legendary coach Vic Braden. He took a two-week USTA class and then worked side by side with Braden the rest of the time, with WWC picking up the tab.
“He didn’t want to just teach tennis,” Burrell said of Braden. “When biomechanics came around, he was a big part of that. He was helping Michael Jordan and all those people at his academy. It was great to work with him.”
After working as the head pro at Tuxedo Tennis Club for 10-15 years, Burrell spent last summer teaching tennis at River Heights Community Centre.
“Most of the people I taught (at Tuxedo) came with me,” said Burrell. “It opened up a bigger chapter for me when I got there because people who had never taken lessons before saw me teaching and said, ‘maybe I’ll take a lesson.’ Even indoors, I brought a lot of people in (at Taylor) who didn’t think they could play inside without being a member.”
For the 2017 summer, Burrell plans to teach at Linden Woods Community Centre. Two courts at Linden Woods have been resurfaced and two more courts will be resurfaced soon. Windscreens will be put up at the community centre, which will be a venue for Tennis Manitoba programs and a practice facility for the National Bank Challenger men’s and women’s professional tournament in July.