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Former ’Toppers tennis champs reunite for charity

Trey Williams • Mar 7, 2013 at 8:56 PM

Former Science Hill tennis state champions Alexander Greer and Jay Wilkinson are partnering tonight to net gains for children.

Wilkinson, who teamed with Greer to win a state doubles title in 2007, will be performing at Acoustic Coffeehouse tonight beginning at 8 p.m. A singer-songwriter influenced by the likes of Hall and Oates, Boz Scaggs and Jason Mraz, Wilkinson will be selling his debut CD “Bring on the Sunshine” and donating 51 percent of proceeds to Give Fifty One (www.GiveFiftyOne.org), a mission Wilkinson co-founded to help end child homelessness.

Give Fifty One sells its brand-name watches, shirts and hoodies with 51 percent of profit earmarked to help end child homelessness.

Greer met Give Fifty One co-founder Jonathan Jones at Elevation Church in Charlotte. They learned they attended the same law school and shared a desire to aid children. Soon they were volunteering in an after-school mentoring program, where they discovered the disheartening abundance of homeless children and scarcity of funding.

Give Fifty One was launched shortly thereafter, and its first year has been encouraging.

“It’s been incredible what all we’ve done over the last year or so,” Greer said, “the way people have responded, supported us and helped spread the word about what we’re doing by wearing our watches and sharing the vision of what we’re trying to do to help homeless children.”

Greer won’t be in town tonight. He’s hosting an event today and Saturday in Charlotte that includes 15 Milligan College students.

“We’re gonna be putting on a dinner for some mothers in transitional housing Friday night and doing some more work Saturday with them,” Greer said.

Greer has gained even more fans serving others than he did serving to others. Supporters include former Science Hill standout athletes such as Daniel Norris, Paul Hoilman, Matt Rice and Omar Wattad.

“Paul and Matt and Omar, those are my best friends since I was in first grade,” Greer said. “We’ve always supported each other. … And then Daniel Norris, I’ve just gotten to know him recently. He saw what we were doing, we got in contact with each other and it’s been awesome to have his support behind this, too.”

Rice was a record-setting hitter and a durable catcher at Western Kentucky, and spent two seasons in the Tampa Bay Rays organization.

“Alexander is dedicating himself to make a difference in the lives of others,” Rice said. “I couldn’t be prouder of what he is doing and what Give Fifty One stands for.”

Hoilman set numerous records for East Tennessee State’s baseball program.

“Alexander has been one of my good friends since childhood,” Hoilman said. “I support him and Give Fifty One in their efforts to end child homelessness. A great guy, a great organization and a great cause.”

Hoilman is preparing to begin his third season in the Chicago Cubs organization, and Norris is starting his second season in the Toronto Blue Jays’ chain.

“I proudly support Give Fifty One because it’s for a great cause,” Norris said. “It warms my heart to see others trying to help people in need.”

Wattad, Science Hill’s all-time leading scorer in basketball, is playing professionally overseas.

“Alexander is stand-up guy with one of the most caring hearts I have ever known,” Wattad said. “I’m not surprised he would think of this amazing idea of the Give Fifty One project. He always wants to help out in any way he can and I truly believe he has the heart to change many impoverished lives around the world.”

Greer’s old tennis partner, Wilkinson, will soon be seeing a lot of the world. After tonight and a March 15 performance in Maryville, he’ll perform in Raleigh, N.C., Hershey, Pa., Rochester, N.Y., and Nashville. After that, he’ll be providing entertainment for seven months on a Norwegian Cruise Line ship that will go back and forth from the Caribbean to Canada.

But he’s excited about performing his “groovy pop” (www.JayWilkinsonMusic.net) for some 30-50 of his favorite fans tonight on Walnut Street. Winning a state tennis title was exciting, but the gratification of connecting with an audience is even more exhilarating.

“It’s really kind of giving in to the moment,” Wilkinson said. “I poured my heart and soul into this music, and I get the joy of performing it.”

The music business can be a tough racket, but perhaps Wilkinson will deliver another smash hit after restringing pursuits.

Tennis did provide invaluable memories and life lessons. Wilkinson thought he and Greer might excel more their junior seasons at Science Hill.

“We weren’t clicking for some reason,” he said. “Maybe it was pressure.”

But 2007 quickly generated a vibe of destiny, one that culminated for Wilkinson when he returned a first serve for a backhand winner while Soddy Daisy had been serving for the first set.

“You could kind of see the wind go out of their sails,” Wilkinson said.

Science Hill also won the team title that season, and Greer and Wilkinson each said their individual doubles title was more like icing on the cake.

“I loved the whole state experience,” Greer said. “It was just amazing. I loved my tennis team, all those guys like Chris Smith, John Storie, Drew Kerr and all those guys. We just enjoyed each other, and everyone loves winning. …

“Jay and I played doubles for many years. Jay’s still my favorite doubles partner, even since college and all that.”

An upbringing in Johnson City’s First Christian Church, which included a mission trip to Zimbabwe, bolstered Greer’s compassion, and he said Johnson Citians such as the aforementioned athletes have touched his heart through Give Fifty One.

“My hometown people have just kind of rallied around and supported what we’re trying to accomplish,” Greer said. “It’s been a lot of fun. We’re very passionate about what we do and feel like it’s a calling.”

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