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Both Sides Now: Former ‘Bama President Becomes Volunteer

Story and photo by Ron Cioffi/USTA Southern

Shelby Akin, Dave Neuhart, tournament desk

Shelby Akin works with USTA Southern Collegiate Committee Chairman Dave Neuhart at the tournament desk.

She won the 2016 USTA Southern Tennis On Campus Leader of the Year. She led her team (Roll Tide!) to not only the 2016 Southern TOC Club of the Year award, but also the same national USTA award that year.

Over the weeekend, when you walk into tournament headquarters, you could have badgered her with questions.

Shelby Akin sat on the other side of the desk.

The former three-year Alabama club team president said she was coming to the Tennis On Campus Southern Championship because, basically, she just couldn’t keep away. Instead of being a very vested spectator, she’s been put to work as a volunteer by USTA Southern Director of Tennis On Campus & Schools Jeff Smith.

Her tasks have including registering scores, making calls to captains (“Do you know you’re playing at Intramurals in 10 minutes?) and answering the many questions thrown at staff throughout the three-day event.

Asked the major difference between being president and a volunteer, she quipped, “When you’re president, you usually have one question. When you’re behind the desk, you get 50 questions … half of which are the same question.”

She talked about her new perspective on tournament operations. “Everything makes sense now. We always took everything for granted, how smoothly everything runs. The preparation, the planning, the team.”

Plus, she’s demonstrated her photography skills (she graduated with a journalism degree) on Saturday morning by taking photos at the Yarbrough Tennis Center. Her photo gallery is posted here.

Akin’s tennis résumé is much like many others competing at the tournament. Her stellar junior career included playing on her high school’s junior variety when she in seventh grade along with the usual trek up the USTA junior rankings. As a high school senior, she captured an Alabama state high school doubles championship and made an appearance in the state singles final.

“It was very challenging to decide between getting a scholarship to play tennis on a DII or DIII school or going to a school like Alabama,” she said. “I couldn’t have played on the Alabama varsity but still decided” on going to Tuscaloosa.

During her first TOC tournament she noted, “I was astonished by the high level of competition. And the camaraderie blew me away.”

There were only eight Alabama players in 2012. Now, you can count 83 on the Crimson Tide squad, mostly due to her recruiting prowess.

“It was all Shelby,” said Smith, who served as tournament director. He cited her organizational ability, outgoing and engaging personality, and fundraising expertise when describing how the program blossomed, especially between 2014-17 when she was the president.

Akin explained, “I’m really proud that, by the time I graduated, we had 83, a more than tenfold increase. A lot had to do with the amount of interest we created. We were able to apply for money from the school. We did a lot of fundraising and created really good bonds. Alabama has a top wheelchair tennis team and we helped host a national championship and tournaments. We did everything from being ball runners to site directors.”

Now working in public relations at Porsche’s headquarters in Atlanta, she talked more about why she first decided to return to the Southern TOC championship. “I wanted to offer advise especially to our nine freshman.” (During an interview conducted outside of the tournament headquarters, she answered questions from ’Bama players who continue to look to her for guidance.)

While Akin said she is happy to return next year, there’s a good chance she may return in a more high-profile position. She has been courted by Smith and high-level USTA Southern leaders to apply to be on the volunteer committee that oversees the tournament.

If you play in the 2019 Tennis On Campus Southern Championship, keep an eye out for someone who has been through it all … from both sides of the desk.