PORT HURON — More than a quarter-century has passed since Michele Winfield first brought her niece, Brittany Banks, onto a tennis court.
It was the beginning of a long, player-coach relationship that led to Banks’ rise as a top amateur athlete in Port Huron.
But despite all those years training together, the two relatives had never shared the court in actual match.
That changed Thursday, as Banks and Winfield teamed up to play women’s doubles in the 66th Annual Francis J. Robinson International Memorial Tournament at the Port Huron Tennis House.
“Growing up, she was my hero,” said Banks, who starred on the Port Huron High School girls tennis team from 2008-11. “So to be able to play with her is just such a highlight — not only on the court, but of my life. I’m just really happy that we got a chance to do it.”
“It was fun,” said Winfield, who’s been a USPTA-certified teaching pro at the Tennis House since 1995. “She’s been trying to get me to play the last two or three years. I’m kind of on the downside of my tennis (career), so I thought this would be a good time to play with her.”
In fact, they couldn’t have picked a better time than with the arrival Robinson Tournament. It’s where Banks first made a name for herself more than 20 years ago.
From 2002-07, she won nine different championships in her respective divisions. Three of those titles came in 2005, when Banks captured girls singles, girls doubles and mixed doubles in the 14-and-under class.
“It’s just a real, full-circle moment,” Banks said of playing alongside Winfield and returning to the tournament. “If I were to never play again, I’d be okay with that.”
Her early success translated to high school, where Banks spent all four seasons at No. 1 singles for Port Huron. She was voted the MAC White MVP as a freshman in 2008. Three years later in 2011, Banks was a First Team All-State selection and the MAC White runner-up.
Winfield remained Banks’ trainer throughout high school.
“She was a good student,” Winfield said. “We kept the relationship separate, as far as coaching and being her aunt. That’s a tough thing to do. But we were able to do it. And with her being the kind of person she is, she made it a lot easier for me.”
“As far as tennis goes, (Winfield) was the only person that I cared if she was proud of me or not,” Banks said. “And if she was, then I’ve done my job.”
By Winfield’s account, Banks did exactly that. But it’s what she’s accomplished off the court that matters most to her aunt.
After receiving her bachelor’s degree at Michigan State University, Banks earned two master’s degrees — a Master of Social Work from the University of Pittsburgh and a Master of Science in Health Care Administration & Management from Point Park University. She’s now a therapist practicing in Metro Detroit.
When Banks graduated from Pittsburgh in 2017, Winfield even made a surprise visit to the commencement ceremony.
“It’s great to have somebody that I love so much be a part of these (tennis) memories,” Banks said. “But also a part of my personal memories and accomplishments too.”
“The relationship we have off the court (has always been strong),” Winfield said. “We’re a tight family. So (when I started coaching her), that was just automatic. Family is family. We didn’t have to work on that.”
Before leaving the tournament Thursday, Banks relayed the story of how she was first introduced to tennis. It’s a well-known tale in family lore.
“I don’t actually remember this, but as I’m told, when I was 3 or 4, my mom wanted her little girl to be a dancer,” Banks said. “She took me (to a class) and I hated it. Then, Aunt Michele came up with the idea of, ‘Well, maybe she’ll like tennis? Let me take her out there.’ “
Winfield’s assumption was right.
“I don’t know if it was supposed to ever stick,” Banks said. “But I’m just glad that it did.”
Contact Brenden Welper at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BrendenWelper.
This article originally appeared on Port Huron Times Herald: Former Port Huron tennis star teams up with her aunt at local tourney