By David Knox
When Seth Sherrill and his doubles partner, Evan McKenzie, put the finishing touches on an 8-2 win over their opponents from Mount Pleasant, they walked off the court to the smiles and cheers of their Moore County High tennis teammates and fans. The team celebrated another big win, another step in the journey for the first-year tennis program. It was another triumphal step for the fledgling program very few thought would take flight — tennis at Moore County. Too many odds against it, and a lot of excuses for it to fail, as head coach Manny Buchanan put it. But those odds were nowhere near as long as the ones that Seth Sherrill’s faced, odds that he would ever win any kind of athletic contest. In fact, the odds weren’t good he’d be doing anything at 16 years old. Even before Seth Sherrill was born, his mother and father knew about his heart defect, and it was serious. He had a double inlet left ventricle, which appears in five of 100,000 newborn babies. “He has a one-pump heart,” his mom said. “That’s what it is.” An infant with the condition faces about an 85 percent mortality rate in the early days. But he beat those odds. As his anxious parents, Amanda and Shaun, watched the fetus grow, they already had accepted that their little boy’s life would have physical limitations, be different from the one their older child would have, or any of the three that later came along. Sports? Not a chance. Football? Forget it. Running? Who knows? Parents pray for a healthy baby. The Sherrills were praying for the healthiest baby possible given the circumstances. Their little boy underwent three openheart surgeries at Vanderbilt from the time he was five days old to 3 years old. He got a pacemaker when he was 3. His doctors told his parents that he’d never be able to play sports. The risk was too great. Contact with another player in a sport like football or basketball, even baseball, could be fatal. Ironically, of all the Sherrills’ five children, Seth is the most sports-minded, and the most active. “Overactive,” his mom said. “I’d be outside doing something,” his dad said, “And I’d have to stop doing it and make him go inside because it was too hot. … He manages the football team and works out with them —” “We had to put a stop to a lot of that,” he rueful mom interjected. “One day I drove up there,” his dad continued, “and caught him dragging a tire across the parking lot.” Mrs. Sherrill stresses they’ve never held Seth back from trying anything he could, within the limits of his health. “He’s so different from our other children. He’s outgoing and has a great sense of humor and always cutting up.” Seth got the opportunity to manage the middle school football team, and then he was asked to handle the same duties for the varsity Raiders. Part of the team in many ways, but not like a player. Buchanan arrived in the summer as a defensive coordinator for the football team, but he’d coached tennis at Shelbyville Central. He thought tennis would be a fit at Moore County and started the program. He sought out athletes, plus others would not played sports. “The great thing about tennis is it’s a sport kids can play that can’t play contact sports,” Buchanan said. “Tennis is a great option for those kids. And research has shown that kids who are involved in extracurricular activities like sports have better attendance in school and a lot of times have better grades. As a coach, I’m always interested in getting more kids involved. “And Seth is an athletic kid.” “(Coach Buchanan) came up to me this summer at football and said, ‘I think you should play tennis,” Seth said. “He said, ‘You’re real athletic and I know you can’t play this so maybe you can play tennis for me’ and I was like, all right, I’ll try it out.” That’s all Seth needed to hear. With the doctor’s OK, Seth began his new-found athletic career. His desire to play sports had always been great. He’d never swung a racket, but he embraced the sport with passion. It didn’t take long to get into the swing. “It didn’t seem right at first but after 20 or 30 minutes or so I thought it was pretty easy to use the racket. Having to learn the rules of the game and the scoring that was a little difficult. But it’s easy now after playing it for over a month. Walking off the Shelbyville courts where MCHS plays its home matches after the win March 17, Seth said the feeling was unbelievable. “It was great. I felt great because it was the first time I could play an actual sporting event and it count. It was great. And it was varsity too,” Seth said. “I never thought they’d have a sport here he could play,” his mom said. “When they got tennis and he was cleared to play, I was happy for him. I was thrilled.” His dad added, “Football is the Moore County sport. But we’re watching and learning the game. Just to see him out there is pretty awesome. We’re used to see him out on the sidelines. Now to see him out on the court, it’s awesome.” Now Seth has a heart for tennis. “Hopefully I can play in college,” the sophomore said. “I’d love to play in college.” Don’t bet against him. He’s beaten greater odds.