- Name: Mary Lawrence Newton
- Age: 25
- Organization: Meredith College, Tennis
Author: Patrick Kinas, DNAOfSports.com creator.
“Tell me your story.”
That’s been the command by which Meredith College tennis player Mary Lawrence Newton has lived her life. For years, she’d step off the court and provide an unvarnished debriefing to her tennis mentor.
A serendipitous meeting 10 years ago has led to a career of accomplishments, a treasured mentor, and life lessons applicable for the Angels’ rising senior’s burgeoning career – in the field of law.
He made me fall in love with the game.
Along the way, he became the mentor to one of Meredith College’s strongest tennis players.
Mary Lawrence Newton, 21, grew up in Raeford, NC as a daughter to a business owner and cotton farmer. Tennis was the furthest thing from her mind as she dabbled in activities and sports as a youngster. Her early childhood love was riding horses, a passion that started burning when she was 5.
The tennis bug didn’t bite Newton until middle school, but when it did, she found considerable room for considerable talent.
“I was a late starter,” the USA South all-conference Newton said. “I went to my first tennis camp when I was in middle school and figured out that I was pretty darn good at it.”
Not only was Newton a natural, unbeknownst to her, a valued lifelong relationship began its cultivation.
“I had a good connection with my coach, who was the camp instructor. After camp ended, he sat with my mom and said that I should start taking lessons. From then on, I played every day, and then averaged about 2-3 hours playing with him in high school.”
“He made me fall in love with the game”
He is Tai Adeleke. He immigrated to the U.S. from Nigeria to play soccer. Adeleke picked up tennis in college, while playing at Campbell University, working his way up to #1 varsity by the time his Camels career ended. Now, Adeleke spends his time instructing and coaching his students on the game of tennis, but also in the game of life.
They’ve spent thousands of hours on the court, running drills, driving volleys, spinning serves, punishing overheads, but also talking about life, goals, approaches, responsibilities and character. Newton and Adeleke had formed a unique and unbreakable bond.
“He has been my rock,” Newton said. “Through high school, he has gotten me through some of my toughest times. I was going through that standard rebellious stage with my parents, and one day after practice, my mom said he’s going to talk to you. I felt like I was going to the principal’s office. My heart sank. He is almost like another father, telling me to get my act together. Having someone like that say things got me to open my eyes.”
Did it ever. As Newton continued to roll her high school competition at Jack Britt HS, she made it to the doubles finals of the North Carolina High School state championships at 4AA.
From Jack Britt, Newton had a choice to make. Did she want to strongly pursue tennis at a Division I school, or follow another emerging interest of hers – law.
Growing up, one of her dad’s good friends happened to be the lead investigator of Hoke County’s District Attorney’s office. The stories were so riveting that Newton found herself mesmerized by the intrigue of solving crimes.
“The stories he told me and my dad about his job, and I loved listening to them,” Newton said. “One day, he said to come with me and I’ll show you what I do.”
For the last two summers now, Newton spends 40+ hours a week as an intern in the Hoke County District Attorney’s office, fulfilling just about any role needed. She burns a path from the courthouse to the office, dealing with paperwork, research and witnesses and their families.
“If they need anything, I get it.”
“I want to go to law school and become a prosecutor,” Newton said. “My ultimate goal is to become the D.A. of Hoke County. “
Not lost on Newton is the coincidental fact that she interns for the very D.A. job she’s aspiring to acquire years down the road. Kristy Newton (no relation), the current D.A. is one of Mary Lawrence’s biggest advocates. Forward-looking, Mary Lawrence would save the county money on printing new letterhead!
“I knew I wanted to go to law school and play tennis, but I also realized that if I played at a lower-ranking Division I school, my whole life would be devoted to tennis,” Newton said. “I didn’t want that.”
The post-match debriefings Adeleke had with Newton hundreds of times after matches are criteria Newton actively applies to her life as it begins to transition to the law field.
“Mr. Adeleke taught us to reach our fullest potential as players,” Newton said. “He told us we have to be able to craft the story, and it has to be straight. The tennis story is basically – what happened in the match.”
“So I’d come off the court, walk to Mr. Adeleke, and he’d say, ‘Tell me your story’”.
“The story had to meet three points. First, the story must be truthful, with no exaggerations. No excuses. Second, the story must be purposeful. It must take you where you want to go with your tennis and your life. Not only what did you take from the match, but what happened during the match that you can take off the court. Third, the story must give you action-filled hope. That if you do certain things – invest in effort – you can overcome any obstacle you may be facing.”
“If you can define those three criteria,that will enable you to reach your fullest potential as a player and as a person.”
The iron bond that Newton and Adeleke grew years ago, is as strong as ever even as Newton moves through her early 20s.
“I still call him today – if I get in a rut –and he can help get me out of it,” Newton said. “Last spring break, I was so frustrated with my play, and I couldn’t figure out what was going on. I called Mr. Adeleke and he went through a checklist of things I had to be aware of – check my grip, was my stance closed, and everything he said was right on.”
He still understands Newton as well now as he did 15 years ago.
“One of the other adages that he told me that I will always remember is this,” Newton recalled.
“Tennis is like going down a river on a boat. There may be rocks below the surface, with bumps along the way, and you may fall out.”
In Newton’s world, how you react when you fall out of that boat, puts your character and heart on display.
Newton will likely play #3 singles at Meredith as she navigates through her final year of college eligibility. With the LSAT exam behind her, she’s hoping to attend Adeleke’s school – Campbell – for her law degree. Chalk that up to just another point of connection between mentor and student.
(Photo courtesy: Mary Lawrence Newton.)