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Counterpuncher: Macy's Parade

January 6, 2014 04:37 PM




The accomplished life of a 10-year-old tennis instructor from Santa Fe, New Mexico


Rose3SANTA FE— “Move your feet, move your feet,” the fifth-grader calls as she tosses a sponge ball to one of three peewees standing in wait on the other side of the net.

Taking the command to heart, the trio simultaneously does a tap dance.  

“Low to high,” says the instructor as each child prepares to swing a racket. “Low to high.”

The pro on duty this wintry Friday afternoon at the indoor Rosemarie Shellaberger Tennis Center is a few inches shy of five feet. She is not a member of the USPTA and hasn’t played in a USTA tournament. In fact, she has yet to participate in any regimented age-group event.

No matter; little Macy Elise Rose loves tennis. And most of all, she loves introducing tennis to other kids who, like her, are Native American.

Born in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, Macy is a member of the Cherokee Nation.  She was raised in a tribal community and spoke only Cherokee until age 7.

Macy’s mom, Wahlesah Rose, 30, is a full-blooded Cherokee. A striking woman who was Junior Miss Cherokee, she played tennis at Northeastern State University, in Tahlequah.

When Macy was 3 or 4, Wahlesah (pronounced “Wah-lee-suh”) took her daughter to the local high school courts in Tahlequah.

“I was scared of the tennis balls,” Macy’ remembers of that day. “I didn’t want to play again—at first. Then I started to play and I liked it.”

Wahlesah_MacyRoseThe name Macy comes not from the department store but from a good, local tennis player her mother knew in Oklahoma.    

As a girl, Wahlesah had for a time attended an Indian school in Rowe, New Mexico. The school no longer exists, but the state cast its spell on her, as it does for many people. Wahlesah was determined to come back.

As an adult, Wahlesah, who is divorced, would periodically take trips to the state with Macy. In particular, the two were attracted to Santa Fe. Four years ago, Mom, with Macy in tow and no job prospects in sight, returned to New Mexico for good.


Discovering a tennis home

Eventually Wahlesah found work as the administrator of a behavioral health company that serves New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada.  Macy meanwhile got involved with school—she attends Wood-Gormley Elementary. Not surprisingly, Macy gets A’s and B’s except for a C in math. Then this curious confession: “I love math.” 

Two years ago, Wahlesah heard about Friday Fiesta at the Shellaberger Tennis Center. It’s a regular event from six to nine p.m. that is open to anyone, member or not. There are drills and games down on the courts, and then later, pizza and soft drinks in the upstairs lounge.

“I saw it as a chance to get back into tennis,” Wahlesah says. Macy saw it as chance for pizza.  In time, Macy enjoyed the tennis much more than the snacks.

RoseHittingIn time, Macy started hitting with some of the pros at the Shellaberger, including Warren Fulgenzi and Rocky Royer.

Now and then Tim Garcia, a club member, would come by and she hit with him too.  Garcia, a former UNM standout and touring professional, is a New Mexico Court of Appeals judge in Santa Fe and the new volunteer vice president of USTA Southwest.

“Macy really looks up at Tim,” says Wahlesah. “He’s always at the club, he’s super nice and he’s got a great game.”

Macy was especially drawn to the golf glove Garcia wears when he plays tennis. Garcia started using a glove three years ago when he injured his finger and has he stayed with it. He gave Macy a golf glove for Christmas.

“She could be a really good player,” Garcia says.  “She could be a real protégé for the Native American community.”

Eventually, Macy started taking lessons on Tuesdays and Thursdays at the Shellaberger, from Fulgenzi or Corey Matney, who is the Shellaberger’s general manager and former USTA Northern New Mexico volunteer president. 

“Warren teaches you the competitive side,” says Macy whose personality alternates from the articulate to the shy. “He shows you where to go if the ball is over there.”

Pros Ralph Bolton and Victor Villareal also began to work with her.

Macy_27s_ParadeOn Wednesdays, she likes to hit with her friend Isabel Voinescu.

The drills, the lessons, the consistent rallying significantly lifted Macy’s game. She says, “A lot of people say I have a real strong backhand.”  

Eric Rose, who co-owns the Shellaberger with Sam Hitman, soon noticed the mother and her daughter at the club. He took an interest and began to coach Macy as well.

“Eric was kind to us, too,” Wahlesah says. “I was drawn to that.” The two became friends.

While all this was happening, Wahlesah became active in the Indian Education Parent Committee for Santa Fe schools. She now chairs that committee. Indian Education offers a summer program and Macy took part in that and got to know a whole group of young Native Americans.

One day Noel Romera, a Creek Indian, asked Macy about her tennis; he expressed an interest in playing. Macy went to her mother and said, "Why can't we have tennis for kids at the club?" 

Wahlesah asked Eric Rose and he said sure. So began the Friday afternoon program.  

The children who come when they can to take lessons from Macy include Isabella Davis, a Turtle Mountain Chippewa, Larissa Scott, a Navajo, Lance Talawepi and his sister, Clarice Talawepi, both Hopi, and Cricket Tiger, a Creek. Most of the students are in first or second grade.

“Friday afternoon is kind of the basics,” Macy explains. “Forehand and backhand and volleys. We use the sponge balls mostly. We do some games, so it’s not all work. They like it where we are running to one alley to the other, and taking a ball that belongs to your partner.”

Wahlesah and Macy attended the annual National Indian Education Association program in Oklahoma City, where they talked about the success of Santa Fe schools and how to get more Native kids involved and working with the USTA. “We asked for volunteers across Indian Country, and got them working on a pilot program across Indian Country,” Wahlesah says.  

Macy did some demonstrations during the program to show that tennis can be played almost anywhere by almost anyone.


The family expands

Tennis has a way of pulling people together. Wahlesah and Eric Rose eventually moved from a friendship to a dating relationship. That led to an engagement. On July 20, 2013, the couple were married in Santa Fe, at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi.  A reception was held at La Fonda.

No one has ever accused Wahlesah of being disorganized. She scheduled activities for wedding guests all week leading up to the big day. Several of the events involved tennis and those of course took place at the Shellaberger.  Vance McFadden, a Cherokee from a celebrated family of Oklahoma tennis players, many of whom have earned places in that state’s Tennis Hall of Fame, came to Santa Fe for the wedding. 

McFadden is Macy’s great uncle. He had been instrumental in Wahlesah’s growth as a young player. At age 69, he hit with his niece.

“That was memorable,” Wahlesah says. “I don’t know when that will happen again.”

Macy recently captured a small-fry round-robin at the Shellaberger. That was not her first trophy, however. That initial honor came one summer a few years ago when she went back to Oklahoma for the annual tribal celebration. 

The festivities included a turtle race, in which Macy entered with her pet terrapin, named Beady.  In spite of having only three legs, Beady hobbled across the finish line first. With that win, Beady gained his release.

The_RosesIn September, Wahlesah and Macy traveled to the U.S. Open. Wahlesah is on the USTA’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee, so the two managed to score good seats at Arthur Ashe Stadium. 

They saw Andy Murray, Serena Williams, Sloane Stephens and Janko Tipsarevic play. After his match, Tipsarevic pulled off his shirt and went over and extended it to Macy. She politely turned it down.  “Too sweaty,” she says.

During that week at Flushing Meadows, Macy pointed at the stadium court and said to her mother, “Some day I am going to be out there.”

Wahlesah smiled and said, “And I’ll be in your entourage.”



TobySmith_FHCOUNTERPUNCHER is an exclusive online series written by Toby Smith, former Albuquerque Journal reporter, three-time USTA Southwest Media Excellence winner, and past Section Marketing Committee member. He also volunteers for USTA Northern New Mexico.

Smith knows the landscape of tennis well, especially here in the Southwest, writing on tennis for more than 40 years. To reach Toby or if you have a story idea, feel free to contact him at tobysmith68@gmail.com or 505-681-0667.

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