Champion: Sandefur rejoins tennis team

Story by Wynne Tidwell

Champion. It’s a word that gets tossed around a lot, but is often not used correctly.  A champion is a warrior, a fighter, one that does battle for another’s honor.

It is doubtful that the conduct of a person can justify this distinction, but on Aug. 21 Clay Sandefur did just that. To steal a line from former president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt; It is, “A date which shall live in infamy” for this years tennis team.Clay hadn’t played on the tennis team since his freshman year. Instead, he decided to be home schooled so he and his brother, Ray, could spend as much time with their mom as possible. Their mother, Cindy Sandefur, was dying of cancer, and every minute spent together was precious. After a long, tough battle, Clay’s mother was losing her fight.

However, the family wanted Clay to go back to a normal life as soon as possible, so he returned to school for his junior year. He also showed up at the tennis courts and asked the coaches if he could be a part of the team once again. They were overjoyed to have a player of his caliber back.

“I think he has done amazingly well this fall with all he has been through,” Coach John Watson said. “We missed him last year. He is a big factor on the team.”

Just a few days later, the tennis team went to their opening tournament in Frisco. It was the second day of the tournament when some sad news passed around the team. Clay’s brother had posted on his facebook that their mother had passed away. One would not have expected Clay to have the strength to play tennis on that day. But there Clay was, on the tennis courts, fully aware of his mother’s passing. No tears in his eyes, no hunched shoulders, even smiling at times. His steely blue eyes seemed ready for battle, and battle he did. He won every one of his matches and walked off the courts a champion in every sense of the word.

“I knew she wanted me to do well, so I just focused on tennis,” Clay said. “I was playing for her.”

Along with his doubles partner, freshman Kyle Kennedy, Clay had his best win of the season that day against McKinney North.

One can barely fathom how he mustered the strength to play, but everyone who watched him learned a thing or two about life. Death is something no one ever wants to face, but Clay faced it with courage, poise and character most could only hope to possess.

“He still went out there and played really well even though all that  stuff was going on,” senior Jenni Markham said. “He earned the respect of the team.”

Looking back, one thing is clear; Clay’s mother was also a champion. She had handled her situation with absolute grace. She wanted Clay to take in life and enjoy every moment it gave him. She was unselfish in letting him go and saying goodbye. And he in turn, honored her in the way he played.

“Being on the Texas High tennis team is almost like being in a family,” Clay said, “every one of them helped me through it in some way.”