Love for sport inspires charitable event to benefit children’s hospital

He’s got a big passion, a big smile, and a big heart. And he’s made a big difference to kids he’s never even met.

Senior Jacob Atkins’ love for tennis began after being a gymnast until the age of twelve. That’s when tennis took over.

“My brother played in high school and I caught on to it after gymnastics,” Jacob said. “Tennis is an individual sport and I like being by myself and figuring things out on my own.”

Jacob’s brother, Bryan High alumni Brady Atkins has seen how much tennis has meant to Jacob over the past seven years.

“Tennis is such a big part of Jacob’s life,” Brady said. “He is always itching to play more and if there is a tennis match on TV, he is watching it. Tennis gives Jacob so much drive and determination in his life.”

Jacob’s favorite part about tennis?

“Just the individualism of it, I play singles mostly, so just being on my own, being out there figuring out how to play the opponent and how to manipulate his weaknesses,” Jacob said.

Tennis wasn’t always smooth sailing for Jacob, however. He was diagnosed with scoliosis, a medical condition in which one’s spine is curved, at a young age and his back fluctuated as he grew, forcing him into a back brace which he wore for four years.

“[The back brace] was supposed to make the curve so it wouldn’t be at a level to have surgery, but it didn’t get that way,” Jacob said.

So, in the summer of 2009, Jacob was taken out of tennis after having back surgery. He couldn’t play for about five months, and a full recovery took about two years.

“It was hard,” Jacob said. “I like [tennis] a lot, and to not be able to do something, it’s hard. But I knew that after all the recovery I could get back on. Now it’s like I never had it.”

Jacob was back on the court as soon as he got the okay from his doctor to play again, and tennis coach Randy Stewart saw a growth in his athletic abilities.

“There were certain things, especially in rehab, we couldn’t do, but he always played pretty good tennis,” Stewart said. “He got a little stronger, got a little quicker, after his surgery, so that helped him a lot.”

Because of his experience with scoliosis, Brady said that it gave Jacob a broader perspective on life and the people he can influence.

“At the hospital that he went to, there were little kids with deformities or diseases walking around in much worse shape than himself,” Brady said. “I think seeing these kids gave Jacob an appreciation for his circumstances and showed him that he should be grateful in all situations because there is always somebody else struggling more.”

With that in mind, Jacob wanted to give back to Scottish Rite Hospital in Dallas which is funded through donations.

“The doctors talked to me about this kid who started a golf tournament and it’s been going on for about ten years,” Jacob said. “I was like, ‘He liked golf, and I like tennis, and so maybe we can put on a fundraiser!’”

And with the help of his team, his family, and the Brazos Valley Tennis Association, that’s exactly what Jacob did. On October 27th, about eighty people signed up to play in Jacob’s tennis tournament and raised $1500. In early January, Jacob got to present the money to the hospital, and now it’s hanging on their wall.

“That’s why I started it,” Jacob said. “They’ve done so much for me and so to give something back to them, it was really cool.”

Jacob wasn’t the only one excited for the tournament; his teammates were right behind him every step of the way.

“I don’t think we ever thought for a second that we didn’t want to help him,” junior Karen Gonzales said. “We all love him, he’s so nice and caring, so we were all ready to help him. Even if some of us couldn’t play, we were all willing to give a donation so he would be able to fulfill his goal.”

With his first fundraiser being such a success, Jacob hopes to continue to host it annually and to educate the community.

“People were able to learn about both scoliosis and the hospital,” Brady said. “It has given Jacob so much joy and has given him inspiration and vision to continue to help out both the Scottish Rite hospital and anybody else he encounters in life.”

As for Jacob, he’s an inspiration to everyone he meets.

“[I hope I made] a great [impact], a positive one,” Jacob said. “One that could maybe change people’s minds about giving back.”