Rock Chalk Weekly: Serving Up an Education
Written by Brittney Maddox, Kansas Athletic Communications Student Assistant
Nothing beats the feeling of contributing to something that is bigger than yourself and Kansas sophomore tennis player Smith Hinton has realized that early in her time as a Jayhawk.
Hinton’s story begins with her love of the sport of tennis. It all started when she was just eight years old. She quickly found herself enrolled in lessons and eventually made her way into competitive play. As the years progressed, Hinton discovered tennis was something she really loved, so she pursued it throughout her high school years and turned her success on the court into a college scholarship.
A native of Raleigh, North Carolina, Lawrence, Kansas was not on Hinton’s radar at first. KU head coach Todd Chapman began recruiting her, but while he was still coaching at Texas Tech.
“I didn’t even know KU had a tennis team, so I had my sights set on other schools,” said Hinton. “When he (Chapman) got the head position here, he invited me on a visit. I agreed, not thinking much of it until I got here.”
Hinton smiled while reminiscing on her initial impressions of the iconic KU campus. The overwhelming beauty and atmosphere of the quirky town of Lawrence and college campus put Kansas on the map immediately.
“I loved it,” Hinton said. “The campus was so beautiful, the people were friendly and it seemed like everyone was really invested in the program here, so I decided to come out here.”
Making the transition to a new state and a new school with all new people is an adventure in and of itself. Hinton knew that she would be heading into a great athletics program, surrounded by wonderful people, all the while having the opportunity to attend a one-of-a-kind university – but there was something more that she would discover in just her first year on Mount Oread.
Hinton relishes the thought of working with people, learning from them, while providing them with new perspectives, too. The Jayhawk tennis star stumbled upon the field of teaching without even knowing it. Though working with children has always been a passion of hers, Hinton realized through one of her classes during her freshman year that teaching was the profession she wanted to pursue.
“It has always been in the back of my mind,” Hinton explained. “When I was little, I would play school and I had a white board and everything, but I never really thought about it as a career until I came here. I found out KU had a really good education program so I took a class, Curriculum and Teaching. After that I knew that is what I wanted to do because I really loved it. I also really love kids.”
With that kind of eagerness for education, Hinton is on her way to influencing the youth of tomorrow in a big way. Going a step further, Hinton wants to do more than just teach – she wants to inspire.
“I think education is really important,” Hinton said. “I want to work for Teach for America. So my goal would be to teach in more poverty-based areas and work with kids like that.”
Teach for America is a non-profit organization whose sole purpose is to train people to become teachers in low-income communities in hopes to strengthen the movement for educational equity and excellence. Those who are qualified to teach are then placed in a community for two years where they can begin to make their impact.
“I think the poverty cycle often gets kids caught in unfortunate situations,” Hinton said. “I think it is, and should be, very important to keep the kids inspired throughout their education and I would love to be a part of that.”
Coach Chapman happens to come from a long line of educators in his family as well. Knowing a teacher’s lifestyle and what it takes to be a great one, he believes Hinton will be a perfect fit among the influencers of younger generations.
“I grew up in a family of teachers, my mom was a teacher for 35 years. My dad was in education for 37 years and I was actually a teacher for six years,” Chapman said. “I know that you have to keep your emotions in check and you also have to show up every day to give kids a chance to learn and I think Smith’s mindset is perfect for that. She is very consistent and with her being in a good mood almost all of the time, I think the kids would really gravitate toward her.”
Still just a sophomore, Hinton has some time at Kansas to develop herself as an individual and professional both on-and-off the court. Although she is an underclassman, the major concepts she’s learned have planted that seed to do good by others.
“I just got into the education program last semester, so this semester all of my classes are based on that program,” Hinton explained. “I took a Teaching and Society class and I found all the topics really interesting, especially how they highlighted how the system can be unfair. Studies show that the environment a child grows up in directly affects their education. I just really want to help in those areas.”
It is one thing to be drawn to a field of work that already makes an impact itself, but the decision to go beyond that makes it that much greater. Hinton’s natural ease with kids and being a role model through her tennis experience has busted through the seams for her throughout the years as well.
As Hinton has grown into her role within the Jayhawk family, Coach Chapman has recognized her vivacious nature through all the people she associates with and every situation she finds herself in.
“The great thing about Smith is that she is who she is,” Chapman explained. “You get the same thing every day from Smith. There are not many days where she does not show up in a good mood. She is very consistent as far as her personality goes.”
Her positivity allows her to make that connection between the sport she loves and the line of work she is so passionate about.
“Over the summer I worked at a tennis center with the kids’ camps,” Hinton said. “I do love teaching kids, and it makes me happy seeing them enjoy something that I enjoy, too.”
Like any other athlete, the dream to play professionally is always there and Hinton would like to try, but she knows, wherever she goes, that teaching will always be in her future.
“I’m in elementary education so I see myself always being around a younger audience in some way,” Hinton concluded. “I could definitely see myself working with and teaching kids on the side and getting them started in tennis.”
Coach Chapman, having been able to see Hinton as a player both on-and-off the court, sees a successful future in the field of education ahead of her.
“She would be a fun teacher, because she also cares about the job she does,” Chapman admitted. “She cares about wanting to do the right thing. I think she has the qualities that would relay from athletics to teaching very well.”
Whether it’s serving that ace on the court, or being that helping hand to a child’s education, Hinton seems to find herself in some of life’s sweetest moments. Through her love of tennis, she was introduced to something life changing, and some day she’s going to return the favor.
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