Respected South Fulton Tennis Coach Passes Away

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From the AJC:

Ernest Peterson adopted a motto for teaching kids to play tennis: Develop kids one ball at a time; change lives one ball at a time.

For nearly 30 years, he tried to do just that at the Peterson School of Tennis in College Park. Along with instruction, the school offers programs that deal with citizenship, entrepreneurship, mentoring and tutoring.

Mr. Peterson turned to the sport after he sustained a back injury while lifting weights. A doctor suggested he take up tennis, according to a 1992 article that appeared in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The 6-foot-3, 250-pound Florida native used it as a vehicle to stress the game of life, too.

“He didn’t play tennis as a kid and such, but he studied it and fell in love with it,” said Jean Peterson, his wife of 33 years. “He would watch match after match. It was something about it that he enjoyed.”

On Saturday, Ernest Peterson of College Park died from complications of a stroke at Southern Regional Health System in Riverdale. He was 65. A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday at Fountain of Faith Missionary Baptist Church in Riverdale. Watkins Funeral Home of Jonesboro is in charge of arrangements.

In 1977, Mr. Peterson moved to Atlanta from Boston, where he’d worked with the Hilton hotel chain. He transferred here to work in personnel at the Atlanta Hilton on Courtland Street.

Upon leaving the hotel industry, he started ventures that included a cleaning business and a contracting business.

In the 1980s, he started the Burdette Junior Program in College Park and eventually renamed it the Peterson School of Tennis. Today, it provides tennis instruction after school, on weekends and in summer camps. There’s even a boarding program for out-of-towners wanting to train.

Natalie Frazier, a 2003 Marist graduate, honed her skills with Peterson for a decade. She earned a tennis scholarship to attend the University of Georgia, where she was a 2007 singles All-American.

“Coach’s No. 1 lesson was to give 100 percent in everything,” Ms. Frazier said, “and to be selfless. He was always jumping down your throat about one thing or another, but at the end of the day, he loved you. He always had a Bible verse or something wise to tell you and you could call him anytime about tennis, school and life situations.”‘

“Someone said he was the person to call if you lost a job or lost a family member,” said his daughter, Jewel Peterson of College Park. “He was the person to call to lift you up. What was amazing to me was that he could speak to any person at any age.”

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