Willis Mbandi Leads Dublin Tennis Center And Alabama A&M Tennis Teams
MADISON- In his small neighborhood within the country of Kenya Willis Mbandi saw the sport of tennis regarded as only the elite and financially well-off could play. He would peer through the fence of the local tennis club and dream of someday making tennis a part of his life.
Today, at age 40, Mbandi makes his living with tennis as the Director of Tennis at the Dublin Tennis Center and as head coach of both the men’s and women’s tennis programs at Alabama A&M University.
“In my homeland many thought sports were not an outlet for the future, but my parents helped me make steps of living my dream of someday play college tennis and be involved in the sport I cherish,” said Mbandi. “My parents drained their bank accounts to get me to the United States to attend college and allow me to live my dream.”
Born and raised in Kenya, Mbandi was a competitive soccer player and swimmer and was among five children to his father, who worked for the Kenyan government, and mother, who remained home to raise their children as the Mbandi kinsfolk was a typical middle-class family. A family friend convinced his father to buy Mbandi his first tennis racquet at age 12, he soon became the only representative from his high school to play in competitive tournaments.
Arriving on U.S. soil for the first time he soon became the No. 1 player for the Alabama A&M University Bulldogs, was named team MVP and was team captain for three years. He graduated with a degree in Management Information Systems in 2006. At that time he was at a crossroads in his life as he was away from home, but did not have employment and was wanting to remain in tennis.
“I began assisting Al Garrett and his Youth Development Association in teaching tennis to the youth of Madison and in August of 2006 took over the position I currently hold at the Dublin Tennis Center,” said Mbandi.
Six years into his coaching stint he was offered the head coach position at his Alma Mater. Earlier this year his men’s team won the SWAC Championship, which was a first in school history, and he was named the SWAC Men’s Coach of the Year.
In Madison Mbandi runs both adult and youth tennis programs starting with players as young as five. Many student-athletes among the local school tennis teams take lessons from Mbandi. Some ask for year-round lessons and Mbandi accommodates as much as the local weather will allow. He does not have an indoor facility to assist during inclement weather.
Mbandi has had his own trial and tribulations over the past few years. He suffered a ruptured Achilles in 2015 and two years later suffered a similar injury to his other Achilles. He was off his feet, but never wavered on his style of coaching. He added, “I feel I’m passionate about teaching as I put the student first on what they want out of the program. I have love for the game as I can push those elite players to be even better and I always have fun.”
Today, Mbandi is proud to be a part of the Alabama community and being a U.S. citizen. Besides his work with tennis he finds time to play for two adult soccer teams in the area and is a very active family man. His life has been one of success stemming from occasional peeps through a fence at a world he only dreamed of.
His entire life story, which began among his native country located on the East Coast of Africa, is clearly spelled out in the November issue of the Madison Living Magazine available throughout Madison.