By Niall Cope: North Staffordshire tennis star Josh Eardley has secured a scholarship at a top American university.
Over the course of the next four years, Josh will attend Wingate University in North Carolina where he will combine studying for a degree with a scholarship in the hope of becoming a professional.
The scholarship allows him to train and represent the university tennis team in many competitions at a semi-professional level on a weekly basis.
Josh, from Basford, is looking forward to the challenge: “This is a great opportunity for me and although they have a similar system in England, which I looked into, it is a much higher standard in America.”
Josh’s opportunity has come about as a result of gradual progression through the ranks at both county and national level.
He was first introduced to the sport at the age of eight and his inclusion in the county training squad when only ten, made him realise his talent.
The former pupil of St John Fisher Catholic College in Newcastle-under-Lyme continued to progress with the club, outperforming players two years older than himself and picking up a plethora of club and county titles.
It was the decision of his coach, Mike Armstrong, to take a group of the club’s youngsters to the Barcelona Tennis Academy to work alongside the coach of two-time French Open Champion Sergi Bruguera, which brought about Josh’s opportunity to join the affiliated English Academy in Sutton, London.
“The head coach in Barcelona was able to contact Sutton and my mum organised a trial for me there a week after I got back home.
“I was told on the day of my trial that I had got in and they were keen for me to start training.”
Although Josh had secured a place, funding was needed to cover expenses.
After raising thousands for charity in the past, Josh’s mum Sheila turned her hand to fundraising for her own son’s career.
“We had to find £4,000, but that was just the beginning. In addition to that, the main expenses were for him to live with a host family near to the Academy and there were hidden costs, such as health insurance and footwear,” she said.
Support arrived from the Sir Stanley Matthews Foundation who donated £500, while contributions also came from a family friend and Basford Lawn Tennis Club in Newcastle.
Further funding came after his first year when the Newcastle Sports Council and the Lawn Tennis Association made contributions.
Josh says his decision to move to London was not taken lightly.
“As much as I loved playing tennis and wanted to train at the highest standard possible,” he explained. “I wasn’t entirely sure if I wanted to make that commitment.
“In the end I’m glad I did move down there because I definitely would have regretted it if I didn’t and it has also given me further opportunities.”
It was at Sutton where Josh believes the coaching offered by former Wimbledon Mixed Doubles Champion Jeremy Bates and Finland’s Davis Cup captain Kim Tiilikainen, has had the biggest influence on his career.
“Sutton has aided me physically, technically and also mentally. Whilst living away from home at 15 has helped me to become more independent.”
Josh also attended the local high school where he completed his GSCE’s and A-Levels despite a gruelling timetable that started with fitness training at 7am.
The North Staffs teenager will move to the USA in January and he is looking forward to the challenge.
“This is another big decision I have had to make, but another one that I would regret if I didn’t take it.
“The reason I am going to an American University to continue playing is because the sport is huge over there.
“They take all sports seriously – some university matches are even televised.”
The youngster, who still represents Basford when he returns to the area, is grateful to Mike Armstrong for that unexpected break, and Armstrong wishes Josh all the best in America: “Training at Sutton Tennis Academy has been a great opportunity for Josh.
“It has allowed him to continue to improve, take his tennis to the next level and hopefully with his move to America, reach his full potential as a tennis player.”