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Maxy’s moxie

Maxys moxie
Although Max Pilkerton (front) has a carefree and humorous atitude, he is strongly dedicated to tennis (M.Krebs).

The forceful thumping of the tennis ball that Max Pilkerton pounded onto the asphalt matched the thumping of his heartbeat during his most memorable match of his sophomore year. Adrenaline pumped through his veins, pushing him to play with more vigor, more fight, and more effort in every swing.

“Good shot,” said his friendly, dark-skinned opponent, repeatedly, after every shot, as he sweated in his green jersey and constantly gulped water from his water bottle. Max almost felt guilty by cruising to a pair of 6-0 sets, but he just couldn’t help himself. He was on fire.

But that’s not how he planned things to play out.

Max never even thought to pick up a tennis racket until freshman year when he was cut from the basketball team and was bored of playing baseball. At that point, he was not successful at many sports, but he still wanted to get involved in some way. His friend, Vince Kambitsis, convinced him to go out for the team, knowing that there would be few cuts.

“He thought I was joking at first, but I convinced him that he had nothing better to do in the spring so he played tennis freshman year and has been playing ever since,” said Kambitsis. “He was also the one that got me to start playing this year.”

Max did not have any background with tennis, and the only other person he knew who played was his cousin. During that summer, he started to take lessons from her, which became a turning point for him. She told him he had potential, which motivated him to stick with this sport.

“You could see talent in him from the beginning,” said Kate Feinstein, Huntley’s junior varsity coach. “He is quite a player because he is positive and full of energy.”

During Max’s freshman season, he was not as concerned about winning as he is now. He was there to have a good time and be part of the team. He simply dove right into the sport and saw what he could do.

“Max has never taken a professional tennis lesson,” said Max’s father Scott Pilkerton. “But he just picks up a racket and plays, and he can play well.”

Max, now a junior, is team playing second doubles on the varsity tennis team, and his passion for tennis grows with every tournament, every match, every loss, and especially every win.

“Between freshman and sophomore year, I changed my mentality from ‘these kids are just so much better than me’ to ‘I want to be one of those kids,’” said Max.

His parents come to all of his home meets and even some away meets, constantly cheering him on. His dad, who was a star football player in high school and went to college at Eastern Illinois University on a full football scholarship, plays with him on weekends. He gives him as much practice as he can with his hand-eye coordination. They play all the time, catching and throwing anything they can find: tennis balls, footballs, baseballs, or even basketballs.

“I have always told Max that he has two of the best hands in Huntley, which is true. They are big and strong, and they can really catch,” said Scott. “And that is probably what helps him to excel in tennis because he has such good hand-eye coordination.”

Although Max is not technically trained and lacks professional instruction, he still manages to win on the court.

“I have horrible form, poor technique, and horrible tennis etiquette,” said Max. “My coaches probably want me to play more like a real tennis player. They don’t like that I goof off, but they definitely like that I win.”

During that pivotal match sophomore year, he did not pay much attention to the boy in the green jersey. His eyes were glued to the fuzzy green sphere that zipped across the court. He performed his classic flip of the racket to the other hand so that he could hit the ball without having to use his weak backhand. Over and over, he struck the ball with his overflowing emotions and pushed his body closer to the net with every swing.

“He plays with a lot of emotion which can be both strength and a weakness at times,” said varsity boys tennis coach Barry Wells. “Sometimes his emotion gets the better of him and he has a hard time slowing down and trying to think through the situation, and other times his emotion is a source of strength that helps him battle back when he is down in a match.”

His passion for the sport is greater than anything he had ever experienced, and he can not stop wanting to win. From then on, this was the mentality Max decided to keep on the court for every match.

“Max has always been the competitive type,” said Scott. “From ‘Monopoly’ to cards to ‘Scrabble,’ he thrives on structure and rules and always wants to beat you.”

Off of the court, he has a different philosophy.

His dedication to the sport is still strong; he just is not the kind of person who would take it too seriously. He is the team’s jokester. Whether it is wearing lucky matching bandanas with a teammate, listening to music on the bus, or betting on who buys ice cream at Dairy Mart after a meet, he never stops having fun with his team.

“On the courts, he is serious,” said Kambitsis. “He hates losing. But off the courts and during practice, he is one of the funniest kids I know.”

Still, Max also takes his losses to heart. On the court, all he can think of is winning, and without that win, he feels empty.

Max’s teammate and friend, junior Aakash Maniar, noticed days after a loss against Johnsburg High School, he was extremely disappointed, almost depressed.

“He is really determined to win,” said Maniar. “It is like he just has to get that win for himself.”

Max is a person who likes relying on only himself. He likes to accomplish things by himself, and he is mature in that he has a unique ability to confidently take responsibility for his own mistakes and losses.

“Max has been a leader in matches with one of the highest winning percentages on the team,” said Wells. “And I’m hoping that next year he can take the next step and be a leader in practice as well.”

When asked why he liked tennis, he sat in the dim fluorescent lights of library fidgeting with his hands as he tried to find the words to describe it.

“When I am playing I am not thinking about anything else, but winning,” said Max. “I love the way it makes me feel inside. I just love everything about it.”

It all sparked from how he felt on the day during sophomore year when defeated the boy in the green jersey. When the constant pounding of the fuzzy, green sphere against the asphalt matches the pounding in his heart, he feels like he is on fire.

“I don’t like tennis,” said Max. “I love tennis.  I belong on the courts.”

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