By Rubin E. Grant
Homewood senior Maggie White might be a three-time individual state champion in track and field throwing events, but her first love is the sport where love is part of the scoring system.
“I’m definitely a tennis player,” said White, who is going to play tennis in college at UAB. “I started playing tennis when I was 7 or 8 and I played competitively until I was 14. I quit for two years. I had played too much and I got burned out a little.”
Her tennis hiatus began after she finished as the Class 6A No. 1 singles runner-up as a freshman in 2017.
But White missed playing tennis, so she decided to play for the Patriots as a sophomore. This time, she won the Class 6A No. 1 singles title in 2018 and teamed with Dina Zaher to win the No. 1 doubles crown.
Then she stepped away from tennis again and didn’t play for the Patriots as a junior in 2019.
“I came back my sophomore year, but I didn’t play last year because I wanted a longer break,” White said. “I didn’t play a lot, but I practiced a lot.”
During her first break from tennis, White decided to compete in track. Homewood track coach Tom Esslinger decided she was best suited for throwing events – the shot put, discus and javelin.
“I knew she was a great tennis player and I knew how athletic she was,” Esslinger said. “The discus, shot put and javelin are as much about explosiveness than anything and she had the strength, power and explosiveness. It seemed like a natural fit.”
White was a natural in the throwing events. She won the Class 6A indoor shot put titles in 2019 and 2020 and last spring won the Class 6A outdoor discus title with a throw of 118-06.
Despite her success in track, White couldn’t stay off the tennis court. She picked up her racket and started playing again last summer. This spring, she once again is playing for the Patriots, while also continuing to compete in track.
“I do both,” White said. “I just have to balance them out. I have track practice once or twice a week, but I go play tennis every day.”
White enjoys being a two-sport athlete.
“She pours herself into whatever she’s doing,” Esslinger said. “She works hard and she cares about doing things right. She’s a competitor.”
All in the Family
White started playing tennis because of her granddad and two older brothers.
“My granddad always played and he got my older brothers into it, so I wanted to do it, too,” White said. “My coach told my dad we were pretty talented, but ‘You better watch for your daughter. She’s got real talent.’”
White’s older brother, Ethan, eventually played tennis in high school at Indian Springs. Her other brother, Jackson, became a track athlete and competed in the pole vault at Homewood. Maggie and Jackson were teammates on the Patriots’ track team for one season when Maggie was a freshman and Jackson was senior in 2017.
Last year, Maggie White competed in each of the throwing events in the state outdoor meet, but because of a freak ankle injury, she will concentrate solely on the shot put this season.
“When I threw the discus in the state outdoor meet last year, I had a hole in the bottom of my shoe that I didn’t know about,” she said. “I took a spin and it just stuck to the ground. I twisted my ankle pretty bad. It put me in boot for a week-and-a-half.”
Despite the injury, White continued to compete. “They taped it super tight and somehow I won,” she said. “I had an MRI four months later and I found out I had a fractured heel.”
White has recovered from the heel injury, but with her collegiate future in tennis, she doesn’t want to risk an injury while competing in the discus or javelin.
White has played tennis with the Birmingham Tennis Academy and also plays at Levite Jewish Community Center, under the tutelage of Joey Unkenholz, who also played at Homewood and at Jacksonville State.
White has been a consistent fixture in tennisrecruiting.com’s Top 100 for her class, achieving a ranking as high as No. 32 in 2016. She has won at the local, state, national and international level. Some of the more prestigious tournaments she played include the Nationals in San Diego, the Junior Orange Bowl in Miami, and the Easter Bowl in California. She also coached for the Homewood Tennis Club.
Last August, White advanced to the semifinal round and doubles finals in the Charity Steel Open, held at Birmingham’s Greystone Country Club. That’s when UAB noticed her and decided to offer her a scholarship.
“We are extremely excited to welcome Maggie to our Blazer family,” UAB tennis coach Mark Tjia said in a press release at the time of White’s signing last November. ”She is an elite level athlete who has played elite level tennis in her career.
“We consider ourselves fortunate that she has decided to continue her tennis career as a Blazer. She will help us in singles and doubles with her aggressive style of play and will bring a competitiveness with her that we will benefit from. We can’t wait to get her here.”