MOULTRIE -- Lonnie White just shakes his head and breaks into that familiar grin.

No, he just can't believe he's 40 now.

But, yes, he can still play a tennis. And play it pretty darn well.

The former Colquitt County High and Grambling player just returned from suburban Washington, D.C., where he finished second in the men's 40 singles division of the American Tennis Association's National Championships.

White lost to Leonard Booker of Alexandria, Va. Same player who beat him last year for the title.

"He's a good guy, so that made it easier to deal with," said White, whose easy smile belies a competitive streak.

He also was second in doubles with partner Amp Meyers, a fine player from Americus who now lives in Atlanta.

White plays in a selected number of tournaments each year and is on the roster of an American Lawn Tennis Association team in Atlanta, although he doesn't play there as much as he would like.

"I'm sort of like their hired hand," he says, again laughing.

But just because he is not playing as much as he would like does not mean he is away from the courts.

White teaches tennis full-time, traveling from his Sylvester home to give lessons and accompanying some of his prized pupils to tournaments around the country.

White just kept playing following his career at Moultrie/Colquitt County High, where he played for Mike Jenkins.

After winning the region and Southern States doubles championship with Johnny Windom in 1978, White went on to Grambling, where he continued to hone his skills.

After four years on a satellite professional tour, he began teaching.

He recalls his professional career "a real experience," remembering the limited resources then available.

"I can pass along (to his students) how not to do it," White said.

White said he was always driven to excel.

"I knew I wanted to compete,' he says.

"I wanted to play and meet different people."

White is now trying to pass that passion to a new generation of players who have more technology and opportunity available than he could have imagined a quarter-century ago.

"They are all using two hands, using that European, circular motion," White observed. "They are just flattening the ball out."

White is often in Moultrie giving lessons and currently has several students here.

Among his top students are Monte Tucker of Birmingham, Ala., and Jonathan Leslie. Both are heading to Division I schools to play tennis.

White is especially pleased with the progress and promise of Tucker.

"We practice every other weekend," he said. "And not just for an hour. It's a workout."

White met Tucker about six years ago when Edward Richardson, White's son, beat Tucker in a tournament for 12-year-olds. White soon began working closely with the youngster.

"He has a great work ethic," White said of Tucker. "And he is working hard now than ever."

White hopes Tucker and the other young players he works with heed some of his advice.

"Because sometimes that good influence is staring you right in the face," he said.

One of White's most gratifying moments in coaching came when he was giving some lessons to Moss Farms diver Lauryn McCalley, who currently compete for the University of Tennessee and is one of the nation's premier divers.

"I found out I was using some of the same kind of mental training they do in diving," White said.

"That was different and refreshing."

One player he has passed on some top training to is his son.

But Richardson prefers basketball, which he plays well for Byne Memorial, a private school in Albany.

White's son still is proficient enough at tennis that even though he does not play full-time and shares his practice time with basketball, he was able to finish third in his age group in the National Championships.

White says he would like to work more with young players from his hometown, perhaps even start some sort of tennis academy.

"It can be done," White said of achieving success in tennis. "You just have to work hard."

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