Shropshire tennis has been impressively recognised with a trio of regional winners in this year’s prestigious Lawn Tennis Association Awards.
Keith Smith has been named Midlands winner of the lifetime achievement award, with Alex Cleland selected as the region’s official of the year.
The popular Shropshire County Championships, named as competition of the year for the Midlands, completes the hat-trick of local winners.
It is the most regional success for Shropshire since the LTA awards – which recognise people involved in the sport who dedicate so much time and effort to helping others – were introduced in 2015.
Tennis Shropshire’s 10 category winners received their county awards at a presentation evening held at The Shrewsbury Club in November.
That took them forward to the regional section where the other victors were from Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire, Staffordshire and Warwickshire.
In having three winners, Shropshire provided more than any other county across the Midlands.
Regional winners from England, Scotland and Wales, including the Shropshire trio, will now be considered for the national shortlist in each of their respective categories.
Tennis Shropshire chair Simon Jones said: “I’m massively proud. It’s fantastic testament to what goes on in the county and the work that goes in, not just by the winners but by everyone nominated.
“When we held our Shropshire awards night, I said that everyone nominated were all winners and just how difficult it was to choose winners in each of the categories.
“To now have three regional winners from Shropshire just shows the strength in the county when it comes to tennis.
“We are classed as a small rural county, but once again we are punching above our weight.”
Of the hat-trick of Shropshire successes, he added: “The lifetime achievement award is probably the most difficult to judge, so for Shropshire to have the winner for the Midlands region in Keith Smith is brilliant.
“Alex Cleland is just a great role model. He was at Wimbledon and the US Open last year before being invited to the Australian Open this year.
“To see Alex grow through junior tennis at Shifnal Tennis Club, take the officiating route and see what he’s achieving now is fantastic and we’re very proud of him.
“The Shropshire County Championships has really gone from strength to strength over the last five years.
“It’s become a festival of tennis and that’s why we’ve seen the numbers grow. The introduction of the Road to the County Championships has also been a huge factor.
“I received texts and emails from parents after last year’s event saying what a wonderful time they had throughout the week, not just their children, but also as parents as well.
“Simon Haddleton and Amy Dannatt put in a tremendous amount of hard work to make the event such a success.”
Keith Smith, the recipient of the Midlands lifetime achievement award, joined Newport’s Boughey Gardens Tennis Club in 1958.
He served as both chairman and secretary, while he was also head coach for 43 years, with an impressive number of junior players involved at the club.
Keith represented the county as a player and his many other roles include producing the Shropshire handbook for five years while he also coached the county’s boys squad for more than 20 years.
Keith was awarded an MBE in 2004 in recognition of his contribution to tennis and also Newport’s business community.
Alex Cleland from Shifnal received the region’s official of the year award.
Alex now has his ITF White Badge after passing Level 2 school in Georgia. He has chaired his first matches at Wimbledon in the junior events and line umpired at the US Open for the first time.
Having exceptionally high standards, Alex impressed with his professionalism when he umpired at the International Schools Federation World School Championships in Italy last year.
He also provided training, mentoring and leadership to the other umpires and was asked by the tournament referee to deliver the morning briefings to fellow umpires.
The Shropshire County Championships, selected as competition of the year in the Midlands, continues to thrive with 192 players taking part last year.
The tournament has evolved to create a celebration of tennis across Shropshire, focusing on doubles, with both junior and adult players from across the county encouraged to get involved.
Successfully introducing a county circuit of grade four competitions in the run up to the event has led to players from more rural areas of Shropshire taking part.
Sarah Downes, Tennis Shropshire’s LTA Awards co-ordinator, added: “We know we have some amazing volunteers and tennis professionals across the county.
“In challenging times like these, it is great to see that their amazing work has been recognised regionally.
“We are really proud of our tennis community here in Shropshire and these three regional winners are excellent examples of the difference to players, families and local communities tennis can make.
“Congratulations to them on their regional success and to all of our Shropshire winners.”