WAYNESBORO – It all started with his uncle at the age of 6.
That’s when Nigel Stewart first picked up a tennis racket. And it has turned out to be a wise decision.
The Waynesboro senior has steadily improved over the years and is currently No. 1 on his team’s ladder for the third season in a row. His aim this year is to win the Valley District championship.
Stewart not only excels in tennis, but also is accomplished in the classroom. And for his successes, the Little Giants have selected him as their spring nominee for the City/County Student-Athlete of the Year award, sponsored by The News Leader.
“I really like the individuality of the sport,” he said. “You can’t blame anybody but yourself for winning or losing. I like to personally figure out the problem on hand.”
Although Stewart had been playing tennis for a long time, his first taste of competition didn’t come until his freshman year in high school.
“My uncle wanted to make sure I was ready for competitive tennis, and my mom wanted to make sure I was mature enough,” he said.
That first year, Stewart joined the Waynesboro ladder at the No. 3 position. He and another freshman as well as four seniors composed the starting lineup. The last three seasons he has moved to the No. 1 spot.
As a junior, he made it to the regional tournament only to lose in the semifinals.
“This year, I am aiming to win the district tournament and again go to the regionals,” he said.
That is also true for doubles, where this will be the third year where he teams with Sam Pereles. They have done well, having a winning record each season.
Stewart has his own idea about how to win in tennis. “I like to play smart and aggressive and be patient at the same time waiting for opportunities,” he said.
Since high school tennis, Stewart has expanded play into some of the local SWAT tournaments as well as the Augusta Health/News Leader Tournament.
For Stewart, tennis is not the only sport he has tried. When he was younger, he played in the youth baseball leagues.
Academically, Stewart has a grade point average that ranges between 3.0 and 3.2. Government and history are his favorite subjects.
“I like learning about the past and how you can take it as a lesson for future knowledge,” he said.
This year, besides AP courses in English and government, accounting, astronomy and math are also part of his curriculum.
He has also been involved in a mentorship.
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The first was with Valley Real Estate Brokers. “There I learned about contract agreements, how to list houses and negotiate a sale,” he said.
His mentorship has also involved the Waynesboro Police Department. There he has observed everything from officers on and off patrol to updating code books.
At Waynesboro High School, Stewart has been involved in numerous extracurricular activities.
He has been part of the Diversity Coalition Club since his sophomore year and has been on the student council.
Since the seventh grade, he has participated in a program sponsored by James Madison University for high achievers. When he first started, he went to JMU as much as three times a month for special programs.
Outside school, Stewart is an active member at Shiloh Baptist Church in Waynesboro and its youth programs. He has sung in the choir, helped with the sound booth and occasionally with the food bank through the church.
He has also been a volunteer during political campaigns and has worked at the Waynesboro YMCA.
“He is a quality individual, and a good role model in the building,” said Waynesboro athletic director Derek McDaniel. “He is a true representative of a student-athlete. He excels in tennis, is a good citizen and is just a solid person.”
Following graduation, Stewart plans on attending Virginia State University and majoring in political science. He is also considering playing college tennis.
When there is time, he enjoys being with family, going fishing in the South River, and gardening, particularly planting flowers. He said he likes to see things grow.
For now, his final season in high school tennis is on his mind.
“I try my best in both academics and athletics,” he said. “At times, it’s difficult, but with time management, it is possible.”