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African native brings new perspective to tennis team

Apache Men’s Tennis player Mwalimu Phiri has an accent and a name that most people can’t place.

“We just call him M. His first name is just too hard to say,” Apache Tennis Coach John Peterson said.

Phiri was born in Zambia, Africa, where he lived up until 2001. He left Zambia when his dad got a job in the United States and moved the family to Yonkers, New York.

“The lifestyle was much different in Zambia than Yonkers. In Zambia, I would go to school and come home and do chores, and in Yonkers I would go to school, hangout with friends and play tennis,” Phiri said.

Living in Zambia, New York and now Tyler the cultures of all three places are so much different.

“New York moves much faster than Tyler,” Phiri said.

Phiri spoke Bemba in Zambia, which is the native language. He knew only bits and pieces of English when he entered the United States, but picked it up fast.

“It was tough to learn English and the lifestyle,” Phiri said. “I picked up English learning from friends”.

Phiri started playing tennis when he arrived in New York. He picked up the game because both of his uncles played tennis and are now tennis coaches.

“I figure my family plays. I might as well,” Phiri said.

His Uncle Kela in particular, has influenced his tennis career.

“He taught me how to take on life with tennis,” Phiri said.

Last year, Phiri contacted Coach Peterson after former student assistant at TJC and now Assistant Pro at Hollytree Country Club recommended Phiri. He was offered a spot on the team but could not receive a scholarship.

“The NJCAA mandates that only two foreign players can be on scholarship, and Mwalimu was not good enough to secure one of the two scholarships last year,” Coach Peterson said. “This year he got a Green card which gives him the rights as an American so he was awarded a scholarship, which he richly deserves.”

Last year, Phiri didn’t play that much, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t striving to become a better player.

“He was a hard worker last year and he improved a lot, but his game was not quite ready nor were his nerves. Basically he just needed a lot more matches,” Coach Peterson said.

“I played all right last year,” Phiri said. “I didn’t know my shot selections.”

Phiri worked very hard last year and it has begun to show.

“He is much more mature in his approach to play this year and has strengthened a couple of strokes that got him into trouble last year,” Coach Peterson said. “If anything he works even harder this year.”

After this year, Phiri will move his tennis career to another team and school.

“He is a Division I player now and we will have no problems getting him a scholarship,” Coach Peterson said. “On the court, he is a true warrior and a good guy. I feel lucky to have him on our squad

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