Alcorn alumnus Ben Marshall looks back on his career as a successful tennis coach
While attending Alcorn State University in the 1960s, alumnus Ben Marshall started playing tennis as a way of staying in good shape. Little did he know that years later, he would be known for using one of his favorite pastimes to touch the hearts and minds of inner city youth.
A few years after graduating, Marshall, class of 1962, accepted a teaching position at Flint Northwestern High School in Flint, Michigan in 1969. While teaching, he was asked to take on the role of head coach for the school’s up and coming tennis team. Marshall, who didn’t have any professional tennis experience, started the program from the ground up by assembling a team that would help him build courts for competition and practice. Once the courts were ready, he spent time promoting the game to children and encouraging them to get involved in a sport that wasn’t as popular in the African- American community at the time.
Marshall became the head boy’s tennis coach in 1978. He also took on the same role for the girl’s tennis team in 1980. In 1982, he signed on as the head coach for the National Junior Tennis League (NJTL), which was held over the summer. His coaching skills led to four NJTL summer championship wins. After a storied coaching career that lasted from 1978 until his retirement in 2000, Marshall became the most winningest tennis coach in Flint Northwestern and NJTL history. As he reflects on his career, he remembers passing on the values he learned at Alcorn to his players.
“I used tennis to teach students discipline and attitude,” said Marshall. “I saw the need to teach those young people what I learned while attending Alcorn, which was how to think and behave in the face of adversity. I used tennis to help them prepare for life.”
When Marshall thinks about his tenure as tennis coach, the success of his players come to mind. He said that he is more impressed with their ability to execute his teachings than his coaching ability. He credits them as the winners. Even though he’s in the latter part of his life, he still has the urge to spread knowledge to the youth.
“I’m more proud of my players than I am of myself. I coached, but they won the games. I’m happy that I was able to impact so many young lives. I’m thankful for being able to help. Even though I’m up in age and can’t move the way I could years ago, I still make an effort to continue teaching. Therefore, my work will never be done because education is always needed.”
Sisters Secola and Idreaka Foster were two of Marshall’s players back in the late 80s and early 90s. The two recounted their experience with Marshall as important moments in their lives.
“Mr. Marshall always greeted us with a big smile and welcomed us with open arms,” said Secola. “My experience with Mr. Marshall is the reason I love to play tennis today.”
“It is my plan to emulate what Mr. Marshall did by combining my love for children and tennis and teach them how to play this incredible sport,” said Idreaka. “I am grateful to have met Mr. Marshall.”
Rod Neely, another former Flint Northwestern High School student, praises Marshall for being a positive influence in his city.
“Mr. Marshall has been a role model for me and my community for as long as I’ve been living,” said Neely. “He is constantly talking about good behavior and showing concern for the well being of his students. He also loves Alcorn. He didn’t condone foolishness or tolerate disrespect in any form. He was always there to help students and parents. All communities need more men like him.”
Marshall’s youngest son, Delmond Marshall, also found success under the tutelage of his father. Delmond won a Flint Northwestern High School record 10 straight matches during his freshman year. Delmond said that his father is the reason why he enjoys sports.
“My father inspired my love for tennis,” said Delmond. “From sun up to sun down, he kept my siblings and I involved in sports. He’s the reason why I not only love tennis, but all sports. We appreciate the values he instilled in us.”